Pepsi's Faux Pas
For anyone who’s been following social media and the news lately, it’s been hard to miss the public scrutiny of two major global brands: Pepsi and United. Today I’d like to focus on Pepsi, and take a look at what went wrong and what it means moving forward.
Two weeks ago, Pepsi released a short video ad on YouTube “trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding,” and was instantly attacked for trivializing the seriousness of social protests and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
The ad featured socialite Kendall Jenner bringing joy and peace to a social protest, through the seemingly simple act of offering a police officer a can of Pepsi. If only this solution worked in real life … but unfortunately it doesn’t, and that’s the problem.
After releasing the ad, a social media storm broke out, with Pepsi disrupting the peaceful unity they were trying so hard to promote. The result of Pepsi’s ad was the opposite of the goal; so how important are intentions? Pepsi was simply trying to join the conversation and release a socially-minded advertisement, taking a stand for global unity in a time of dissension. While the execution was poor, the intentions were good, so do they deserve such brutal scrutiny?
In such a fragile and volatile society, how can brands ensure that their actions are authentic, sincere and credible? Is it possible to take a stand without offending anyone? Will seeing Pepsi unintentionally miss the mark discourage other brands from communicating around social issues?
Pepsi has since pulled the ad (quite quickly following the backlash), and while their stock suffered briefly, it has recovered and stabilized, and Pepsi has made no further mention of the ad. Kendall Jenner refuses to talk about her involvement, and has threatened to blacklist any media outlets that reference the ad during interviews.
While I applaud Pepsi for their agile response to consumer concerns, the real question for me is: Is this a missed opportunity to confront and talk about the real issues that plague our society? Is erasing and forgetting their mistake just part of the bigger problem?