Last week on Tuesday, Pepsi released an ad featuring Kendall Jenner. This ad achieved the exact opposite of its main intention. In an attempt to piggyback on the rally of activism behind the idolized, but out-of-touch, Kendall Jenner; Pepsi expected an encore and instead they acquiesced an onslaught. Since then, they’ve pulled the advertisement and rightfully so.
In the two-and-a-half-minute ad, a group of young people march through the streets holding vague protest signs sporting slogans like “Join the Conversation” and “Love.” At this moment, Kendall Jenner rips away her blonde wig and lipstick to join the movement. Grabbing a can of Pepsi, she heads toward the line of formidable policemen, winning one of them over with a Pepsi. As the crowd cheers, social media did quite the opposite. Let’s explore what all brands can learn from Pepsi’s debacle.
Sure, we can look at it from a marketer’s perspective but more importantly, they showed how distant they are not only from their audience but from their American struggles of today. Specifically, the plight of the minority groups. Ultimately, the tone-deaf ad did more than set a social media uproar but they can surely thank the ad agency for such good coverage. Of course, I’m being as facetious as their very commercial.
Women, as well as all minority groups, have found common ground rallying streets across America, praying for a saving grace like the symbolic Pepsi can to shift systemic oppression that Jenner so easily dissipated.
Following the release of the ad, Pepsi quickly became a trending topic, especially in the U.S. on Twitter and soon after received a weighted review from most critics across the internet. You’ve probably heard a full scope of the backlash already but there are a few brand lessons to learn from Pepsi’s mishap.
Brand alignment and content strategy go hand in hand. Legacy companies often dismiss this because they simply haven’t prioritized digital content but Pepsi couldn’t ignore that immense feedback that came from the online community.
There’s an inherent connection between a solid brand and a perception of authority. Yes, this holds true for SEO but it also applies to how prospective customers think of you.
Pepsi may have envisioned a play to entice the younger demographic but the narrative told in this latest advertisement didn’t align with their brand whatsoever. Nor did the reaching attempts to illustrate a civil protest that so many have been arrested, beaten, and even killed for in 2016 alone. I’ve seen many references to Martin Luther King, though they were made jokingly by those critiquing this ad, it has also made a mockery of modern-day troubles of society.
The hot “trend” isn’t always for you
Content tends to be either evergreen or on-trend. There are obvious benefits to riding the wave of a current trend, but I’m pretty sure the resistance wasn’t the cultural movement that Pepsi should have imitated – at least not for their own profitable gain.
Brands can get political and those that are successful originate from a genuine objective.
Despite the uproar, Pepsi defended their stance after releasing a statement, “This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.”
The irony here is that the image of Kendall Jenner handing the soda can to the police officer was the very message derived from the award-winning photo taken at the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest last year July in Baton Rouge, La. If only the activism of black activists got as much press as Pepsi’s naive mimicry.