What We’ve Learned from Pepsi’s “Missed Mark”

A lesson in modern advertising

After the overwhelmingly positive reception of ads like 84 Lumber’s Superbowl ad and Nike’s Equality campaign, we began to wonder:

Can a brand miss the mark when it comes to piping up about social justice?

Well this week, it happened.

Cue a Pepsi-in-hand, blonde-wig-slinging, All-American model Kendall Jenner here to “join the conversation.” Pepsi rolled out its new “Live For Now” campaign with a two and a half minute spot of Jenner abandoning a roadside photoshoot to hit the streets for a peaceful protest in an unknown place for an unknown cause.

It’s with this insipid, vanilla fervor that Pepsi is attempting to make a statement about “unity, peace, and understanding.” So if you’re wondering if Millennials are savvy enough to pick up on a big brand trying to capitalize on a serious issue while simultaneously pandering to minorities… they are.

Let’s take a look at the stats.

Digital content engagement around Pepsi increased 366% in one day.

43% of this engagement mentioned Black Lives Matter.

31% of engagement called the ad “tone-deaf.”

77% of all mentions called out both Kendall Jenner and Pepsi.

*statistics from Amobee Brand Intelligence

The ad was prominently panned for trivializing serious issues, like the Black Lives Matter protest. So it’s worth noting that this campaign was created by an in-house team at Pepsi made up of 6 creatives who were all white. In this instance, the Pepsi team could have benefitted from doing some simple research and getting in touch with the various groups they were so desperately trying to reach.

So what have we learned?

If a brand is trying to find its place in today’s polarized socio-political landscape, one thing reigns true: be authentic. Make sure the message you’re trying to relay is one that naturally falls in line with your company’s credo.

Next, work with a diverse group of people to ensure that your campaign’s message stays true to its roots. Never underestimate the value of having a multitude of perspectives weigh in on your vision.

For now, it seems as though Pepsi was the first canary to go too far into the coal mine; only to return gasping for air with a weary, apologetic tweet.