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Pepsi and Kendall Jenner: What went wrong…

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…and what can we learn?

Tuesday morning, Pepsi released a commercial featuring a diverse group of people marching through the streets with “Peace” signs. Kendall Jenner is in the middle of a photoshoot when she notices the march and decides to join in, finally approaching a police officer and handing him a Pepsi which seems to solve all the issues. The whole point of the commercial was for their “Live for Now” campaign which celebrates “moments when we decide to let go, choose to act, follow our passion and nothing holds us back”.

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.”

However, after endless criticism, Pepsi is pulling their latest ad, just one day from its release. The brand originally stood by their ad when it was first being mocked, claiming that it was a representation of people from all over the world coming together in a “spirit of harmony”. However, people broke out on Twitter, criticizing the insensitive and tone-deaf ad of commercializing and exploiting the Black Lives Matter movement.

The desire to connect and sell to millennials is absolutely crucial for all brands. Airbnb, Lyft, Audi, and Budweiser were just a couple examples of brands who used their Super Bowl ads in an effort to connect with Millennials and their social causes. So what exactly went wrong with Pepsi?

Internet Justice

Millennials are swift to go onto social media to call out brands. When the ad was released, Pepsi quickly became trending in the U.S. on Twitter. The reactions ranged, but still had the same idea: Pepsi did a terrible job.

Brand Alignment

Once it started trending, Pepsi couldn’t simply just ignore the controversy that it had started. The online community was angry, and all Pepsi wanted to do was to ride the hottest trend and align the content with its own brand. However, Dennis Williams writes how brand alignment content strategy goes hand in hand. Although Pepsi wanted to entice millennials and the younger demographic, the narrative used didn’t align with their own brand whatsoever.

In-House Advertising

“That’s the challenge of an in-house creative group, they tend to overdrink the Kool-Aid and they lose that sense of objectivity. They’re looking at the world through Pepsi-colored lenses.” — Allen Adamson, founder of BrandSimple Consulting

Not all brands get their content right, and this is a prime example of how badly things went downhill for Pepsi. This is a classic example of how relying on an in-house advertising team can go terribly wrong. Although there are definitely advantages of having an in-house advertising team, there will always be a disconnect between the brand and consumers, which arguably is the most important connection a brand could possibly have.


Pepsi had the data right: 75% of millennials consider themselves activists which led them to create this ad of activism. Benjamin Blank, CEO and chief creative officer at Uproxx Media Group, said Pepsi ‘misfired’ by taking a “very broad-stroke approach as opposed to standing for something. It’s like standing for love or happiness, that’s not really a stance.”

Update:

Take a look at this SNL spoof:

Heineken put out the Antidote to the Pepsi Kendall Jenner Ad:

 

Chantal Wong

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