The ad has been harshly criticized, in part, because of the similarities to serious and significant protests in American history. Infuriated critics are drawing comparisons to the Civil Rights Movement as well as modern anti-Trump protests and, of course, the Black Lives Matter movement.
Furthermore, the use of Kendall Jenner – a reality TV star turned top model born into celebrity – ignited contention over the idea of an extremely privileged person as a conduit to a peaceful resolution.
Consumers can spot a shallow attempt to be sold to from a mile away. The fact that Pepsi seized a sensitive and controversial moment to attempt to sell soda is inauthentic at best, and just insensitive at worst.
Pepsi initially defended the ad by saying that it “reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.”
A few hours later, however, the soda giant pulled the ad, along with a statement 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.”
PepsiCo likely knew that the ad would spark some controversial buzz through its protest motifs and high-profile celebrity influencer; however, they probably didn’t expect it to prompt Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter to call them out on Twitter.
From a PR perspective, here’s our take. The con: well, the ad itself. It will hurt both Pepsi’s brand and sales, especially with US soda consumption already at a 30 year low. However, we can point out a pro: Pepsi did act appropriately by swiftly issuing an apology and removing the ad.
Another interesting aspect to note is the ad was produced in-house through PepsiCo’s in-house content creation team, according to an AdAge article. In-house advertising teams can be highly focused and highly creative. However, one of the largest benefits of hiring an agency is the objectivity an outside perspective provides – the power to spot the potential for huge controversy before it’s released to the public.
Other PR pros – what’s your perspective? I’d love to hear! Comment on our Facebook page and let us know your takeaways.