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The tale from two cities: on Carlsberg’s “social experiments” in Brussels and Hong Kong

Is it just me, or is it in vogue nowadays for advertising agencies to make ads disguised as “social experiment”?

I also find the term “social experiment” creative: who really believes that in these experiments they never did random assignments? To me this format is closer to the incarnation of the Candid Camera TV show. Honoring the tradition of planners’ fondness to neologism, maybe I should start calling this format “prankvertising“.

Anyway, I never have objections to formats or mediums in themselves. What matter is getting the right format or medium for the idea and the objective. One good example is this brilliant video Carlsberg Belgium that went viral around a year ago. Let’s see it:


I like the thinking behind it a lot. I salute the strategy to make Carlsberg being associated with open-mindedness and social connection without prejudice (the desired response). It’s an area that’s relevant to the audience’s culture and psychology. I also think these associations will increase the chance of Carlsberg being accessed during buying situations: isn’t beer is about ice-breaking? The stimulus part is also well-thought of and well-executed. It’s a fresh way to bring alive the theme of of “there’s a reward for those who’re willing to go beyond social prejudice”. The reactions of the “experiment subjects” (or the victims of the prank?) are priceless.

So, good for you, Carlsberg Belgium. Now Carlsberg Hong Kong is trying to adapt the same idea into their local context. Here’s how it looks like (hat-tip to Heather Le Fevre):


For me, the idea breaks apart. I agree with Le Fevre that this work can make Carslberg being associated with “intimidating” or “for audacious people”. I guess it’s just wrong to have the ‘bullies’ actively threatening the passerby. There’s no subtlety in this execution, and this makes it missing the mark.

At least these two executions remind me that when it comes to create another execution for one same idea that has been executed before, we have to be really strict and explicit in describing the elements the desired response (both cognitive and emotional) and in the stimuli. 

What do you think, dear readers? Do you also believe the Hong Kong execution fails? If you do, what contributes to this? Or do you see that it’s actually a good execution of the same theme?

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One thought on “The tale from two cities: on Carlsberg’s “social experiments” in Brussels and Hong Kong

  1. Tom Ripley says:

    In my opinion, actually those two aim for different goal. Carlsberg Belgium was to observe how people reacts to stereotype. The subjects came in pair, they can talk and share their minds and fears. I would think ‘Hey, these guys are paying movie-goers too. And I can always hold my bladder.’
    While Carlsberg Hong Kong experiment was to observe whether people brave enough (or desperate enough?) to cross the bridge. And the subject was alone. If I was alone, walking on bridge and several big hunks looking at me like their prey block my way; I would find other way.
    Carlsberg HK is failed as a social experiment and falls into just another hidden camera sketch; not well planned and not as clear as Carlsberg Belgium.
    On lighter note, Carlsberg HK wanted to find those who stand up, when the other those who ‘sit down’.

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