Unless you are currently in the midst of a social media detox, you have probably already heard all about Pepsi’s recent marketing and PR blunder. Late last week, Pepsi unveiled a new ad featuring the fashion world’s it-girl, Kendall Jenner. The ad follows Kendall as she joins a crowd of young people marching (without cause, it seems) after abandoning a photo shoot. Taking off her blonde wig and smearing her plum lipstick, Kendall picks up a Pepsi as her contemporaries of all races and orientations smile at her. That’s when the Kendall approaches a line of policemen monitoring the protest and hands a handsome officer a Pepsi. Of course, he takes a sip, prompting the crowd to erupt in cheers.
If you haven’t heard seen the ad, check it out above!
The greatest injustice in the ad believed by many is directed towards the Black Lives Matter Movement. Bernice King, daughter of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, tweeted: “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” There are undeniable similarities and the imagery seems to recreate a significant moment in a protest when young woman, Ieshia Evans, stoically stood up to armed police officers in Baton Rouge while protesting the deadly police shooting of Alton Sterling. Here is the legendary photo of Ieshia along with the image of Kendall Jenner offering a police officer a Pepsi which appears in the ad:
Within 24 hours, Pepsi pulled the ad but the damage has already been done. In a humbling statement, the soft drinks leader apologized saying: “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. We are removing the content. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”
Pepsi Co. has come off as ‘tone-deaf’ in attempt to be hip and make the most of the marches during the racial protest movement. Many of us are left scratching our heads, not able to comprehend why a brand of this stature would not do its due diligence and market research to gage the type of response this ad could possibly receive.
Many brands like Pepsi have been in similar situations (also recently in the news, Nivea pulled their ‘White Is Purity’ campaign after widespread backlash). Pepsi will undoubetely recover from this PR nightmare and hopefully this will be a lesson for their team as well as other marketers and communicators. A organization needs to clearly identify their core values and messages to align with their their marketing strategy. Clearly, this strategy has to be supported with research and consumer surveys, not just what ‘in’ and trending.