The Pepsi Ad. That’s all you have to say and people instantly know what you mean. But in case you somehow missed it, here’s the gist. The ad is a two-and-a-half-minute commercial featuring Kendall Jenner at a social protest. After giving some righteous fist pumps and feeling woke with her fellow protestors, Jenner hands a Pepsi to a stern police officer, seemingly calming the tension. The implication? The Black Lives Matter movement, the Women’s March on Washington, and other protests worldwide would have all been more effective…if only everyone just shared a Pepsi.
The backlash to the ad was swift and fierce. Many on social media called the campaign “tone deaf,” accusing Pepsi of using video advertising to profit from recent social issues. Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest daughter, Bernice King, tweeted an iconic photo of her father face-to-face with a state trooper with the caption, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” That got 160,000 retweets. Pepsi quickly pulled the ad and issued an apology, acknowledging that they “missed the mark.”
But here’s the big question: If we’re still talking about the ad over a month later, how much of a marketing failure was it, really?
Has This Hurt Pepsi’s Image?
It’s unlikely that Pepsi’s long-term image will be damaged by this misstep from their marketing and ad department. They’re already ranked in the Top 30 of Forbes’ list of brands with the best name recognition globally. Even with the negative attention, one controversial ad probably won’t keep people from drinking their soda. The public has a notoriously short attention span; people might remember the ad for a long time, but the strong emotions they felt on the first viewing will fade as they move on to the next media mishap.
Just how could the near-universal backlash against the commercial actually be a marketing win in the long run? While the ad has been enveloped in a slew of negative feedback, it still got people talking. In fact, it’s become one of the few things that the internet by-and-large agreed upon—the harsh reaction to the ad brought people together. And, when we’re constantly being bombarded with messages that we’ll see one day and forget the next, getting this amount of steady attention is no small feat.
Will This Affect Future Marketing Campaigns?
Although Pepsi is likely to weather this storm, lessons from the ad will probably affect how companies make future marketing decisions for a long time to come. When creating new advertising campaigns that focus on video production, brands should take note of the emotional response that came from Pepsi’s attempt to insert their product into a highly charged social situation. And sure, there are occasions where it might be acceptable to reference politics in an ad (in a subtle and unbiased way, of course), but it’s risky to suggest that your product could single-handedly solve society’s ills, even if you’re as big and global as Pepsi.