The iconic brand PepsiCo recently released an advertisement titled “Live For Now Moments Anthem” for their popular soft drink ‘Pepsi’ on April 3rd 2017. The ad was created with the aim to target younger consumers as Pepsi wanted to make their products resonate with this audience more.
This ad was Pepsi’s attempt to connect to a politically active, socially aware millennial audience, but instead the company faced widespread backlash from social media as their ad was considered a social media ‘fail’ and an unfortunate attempt at social marketing with critics saying it trivialised institutional racism and appropriated black lives matter (Hogan, 2017). The ad was removed just days later after being launched and pepsi apologised and took responsibility.
The advertisement featured celebrity icon, Kendal Jenner, posing for a photo shoot as images of frustrated-looking, multi-cultural artists flash on the screen. Diverse crowds of young people in a protest begin walking past the photo-shoot and Kendall gets tempted out of posing for the camera by one of the protestors and runs over to join them. They are carrying signs with messages such as “Join the conversation”. Jenner picks up a can of Pepsi and walks over to a nearby police officer. A very happy Muslim protestor enthusiastically takes a picture of Kendall handing the cop a Pepsi, who then cracks the can open and takes a sip which is followed by roars of approval from the protestors. Everyone starts hugging like the last scene of The Shawshank Redemption. The Police officer then glances over and smiles at a fellow colleague and the slogan “Live bolder, live louder, live for now” flashes on the screen. The ad then concludes.
Within two days of the ad being launched there was around 124,598 social media posts referencing it and, of the 105,524 posts by members of the public, 45% were negative compared to 27% that were positive (Hobbs, 2017a).
A key factor as to why Pepsi’s ad was a social media ‘fail’ was not because Pepsi centered the ad on popular cultural topics, it was because it failed to do so sensitively. Pepsi should have taken into consideration that you probably wouldn’t want to cast a white supermodel, Kendall Jenner, in an iconic Black Lives Matter scene (as seen in the photos below).
A huge contributing factor as to why PepsiCo’s ad was a social media ‘fail’ and caught so much backlash was because of the way they went about implementing their social media strategy. PepsiCo rushed this ad with company president , Brad Jakeman, mentioning prior to the ad being released that PepsiCo was forming a new in-house content creation team called Creators League Studio. This meant that PepsiCo was no longer going to be using outsourced advertising and marketing agencies and would be doing this all themselves.
PepsiCo’s president explained that they were seeking to up their content from 5 to 5000 pieces per year, decreasing the time frame and reducing the cost (WARC, 2016). He stated that he was sick of the complicated structures involved with working with as agencies which he saw as hindering their ability to produce content quickly (WARC).
PepsiCo took a huge risk in producing all advertisements and marketing plans themselves, which resulted in the ‘failed’ ad. Pepsi’s in-house content creation team worked so quickly on the Kendall Jenner campaign that they failed to properly implement a correct social media strategy and they also failed to check it for controversy. The ad ‘failed’ because Pepsi did not have an outside perspective from an ad agency. They did not conduct thorough marketing research and they did not reach out to consumers. By not applying these key factors, Pepsi failed to gain an outside perspective as to what people’s opinions about the ad might have been. This could have prevented the backlash that they received and would have opened their eyes to the socially and politically insensitive themes that were apparent in their ad.
The way consumers react on social media can either make or break an ad and for companies like PepsiCo they can sometimes find themselves living in a ‘mediapolis’ or, as Deuze (2011, p.137) describes it, a “comprehensively mediated public space where media underpin and overarch the experiences and expressions of everyday life.” With social media and the internet being such a huge factor in companies like PepsiCo’s business’s the negative backlash from social media surrounding Pepsi’s ad interrupted their chance for their campaign to have any sort of positive spreadability or searchability.
Lucky General’s founder Andy Nairn states that, “Even if an in-house agency is filled with people of colour then they will still likely become so wedded to the brand, and see things through the lens of the brand, that they fail to spot tone or how the outside world perceives their brand. Diversity is a broader issue” (Hobbs, 2017b). This statement shows that the consistent branding and identity management part of PepsiCo’s Social Media Strategy was lacking.
By no means is traditional media irrelevant and having an integrated approach to reach your target market is usually ideal. New media channels are popping up all the time. The rules of good advertising and marketing still apply but, for Pepsi, this wasn’t the case. The company did not want to put the time into their social media strategy, their advertisement or their marketing which would have avoided this social media ‘fail’.
A key element to creating a successful campaign is having a strong Social Media Strategy. PepsiCo’s Social Media Strategy was lacking in some areas, which was damaging as every touchpoint has to enrich the relationship between the audience and the organisation and, for PepsiCo, this was not the case. If a new Social Media Strategy for PepsiCo could have been put in place to avoid the ‘fail’ it would have started off by outsourcing an advertising agency and marketing professionals to ensure an outside perspective approach would be applied to the ad.
A key element that needed to be implemented into PepsiCo’s Social Media Strategy was a Research element. PepsiCo needed to find out the strengths and limitations of their advertisement, which could have been done through things such as surveys, data analysis and interviews where the company could have gained an outside perspective. It is important to remember that, within the social networked sites that we operate, or “networked publics”, the dynamics are increasingly complicated with the audience you are communicating to not always being apparent and their contexts quite varied (Boyd 2010, 11). With this being the case it is important to remember that the research element is critical as not everyone has the same opinions and views on things. If PepsiCo had paid more attention to the Research element of their Social Media Strategy they could have learnt more about what was going on in the world, for instance the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest that had recently occurred. Doing so would have revealed that their ad was very insensitive with the recent events that were going on.
PepsiCo could have avoided some of the backlash that they received on their social media accounts if they had of developed the right “house rules”. “House Rules” are an essential component of a social media strategy, because it stops someone posting something negative about the organisation. PepsiCo could have put in place restrictions and used a moderation block list on their social media accounts, which means that the moderation block list would have stopped members of the public posting hateful posts involving the words that PepsiCo had blocked.
Another essential element that needed to be applied to PepsiCo’s Social Media Strategy was that they needed to conduct a Test and Learn Matrix. Companies like PepsiCo should always be trying to optimise. Creating a Test and Learn Matrix would have allowed PepsiCo to see what types of posts elicit the best responses from their audience by showing their them a range of ads or posts and seeing which posts get the most engagement and which ones don’t. By doing this in advance and finding out what content their audience wants, PepsiCo could have gained insight and avoided making an ad that their audience was clearly very opposed to.
PepsiCo’s ad and social media strategy was lacking in the aspect of convergence. They struggled to make their computing, communication and content all flow and work together. They were lacking in the communication and content aspects of their convergence, if these aspects were improved they would have avoided many of the implications that contributed to this social media fail.
It is clear that after critiquing PepsiCo’s social media ‘fail’ that it is critical to have a clear and strict Social Media Strategy to ensure for a successful campaign. PepsiCo’s advertisement clearly shows the dangers of not having an external perspective. Marketers need an outside perspective, whether from an ad agency or by conducting thorough market research and reaching out to consumers.
Boyd, D. 2010. “Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications.” In Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (ed. Zizi Papacharissi), pp. 39-58. New York: Routledge.
Deuze, M. 2011. “Media Life”. In Media, culture & society. 33 (1). Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/doi/pdf/10.1177/0163443710386518
Hobbs, T. (2017a). Pepsi’s tone=deaf Kendall Jenner ad deserves to be criticised. 5th April. Retrieved from https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/04/05/why-pepsi-kendall-jenner-got-it-wrong/
Hobbs, T. (2017b). Pepsi’s ad failure shows the importance of diversity and market research. 7th April. Retrieved from https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/04/07/pepsi-scandal-prove-lack-diversity-house-work-flawed/
Hogan, M. (2017). Kendall Jenner ad uproar ‘shows how far Pepsi has fallen,’ marketing exec says. Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/05/kendall-jenner-ad-uproar-shows-how-far-pepsi-has-fallen-marketer.html
WARC. (2016). PepsiCo exec challenges agencies. Retrieved from https://www.warc.com/NewsAndOpinion/news/PepsiCo_exec_challenges_agencies/e9ddaf93-83f6-414d-975c-9328a6f97a6a