Full disclosure: I work for Coke. I wasn’t going to write anything about the now deleted Pepsi ad because of my soda ties. But I got some things to say.
At the surface it hit all the marks, especially for millennials and Gen Z–-celebrity endorsement, standing for a cause, and overwhelmingly ~inspirational and uplifting~. So why did it miss that mark with its target?
Let’s start with the celebrity choice. Kendall Jenner 77.8M Instagram followers. 21.4M Twitter follower. 15.6M Facebook likes. Clothing line, reality show, modeling career. She definitely has reach and a platform, but none of those have been used to support any causes. She’s popular with the cool kids, but for fashion and beauty. Not someone people look towards to affect change.
The cause in the ad is unclear. Marchers and protestors are seen holding signs about love and peace. We see young people coming together and standing as one for something bigger than themselves. But with Pepsi actually standing for anything, it simply makes light and commodifies every march and disfranchised group. It’s clear they made a concerted effort to feature a wide range of diversity in the crowd. With so much representation, it would have been all too easy for Pepsi to take an actual stand and help promote a real cause that can’t be solved with a soda.
Second disclosure: I’ve never been to a protest. I respect and admire those who have/continue to risk their lives and freedom to fight for justice. So with such high stakes at protests, I doubt it’s a party in the streets. The tone and ambience of the ad were incredibly inauthentic. While I’m sure there are some empowering and inspirational moments at a protest, it’s not called “resistance” because activists want to “Live for Now”. People who protest are fighting to live.
It’s been echoed across social media and the web, this Pepsi spot undermines and trivializes the work many sacrifice for. Pepsi made the right move to delete the ad, but it may not be enough for damage control. Costly and tone deaf ads can be avoided if agencies hire a more diverse staff and create an environment where creatives are comfortable speaking up about potentially offensive ads without fear of ridicule and repercussions.
What’s your take on the ad? How do you think the brand will recover?