Pepsi’s failed commercial: why your marketing team should be listening


In the latest Pepsi commercial, the carbonated soft drink produced by PepsiCo attempted to join the conversation of a divided country in a time of protests – by featuring Kendall Jenner as their protagonist.

The commercial was the center of criticism, and many viewers took to Twitter to speak out on the spot. Pepsi was highly criticized for trying to capitalize on the political differences that the United States is currently under. Although the video was pulled from Pepsi’s YouTube channel less than a day after being published, you can see Pepsi’s spot below:

The production, the acting, and everything else was acceptable for the commercial, but it was the message that did not quite land with audiences. Some users have brought up the question if it was perhaps Kendall Jenner’s appearance that diluted Pepsi’s message, but her image was not a factor for Pepsi’s poor deliverance.

As Twitter user @madads14 points out, the casting was not the problem, but brands may want to feature people instead of celebrities to convey messages that try to appeal to an audience’s persona. We have recently seen an example of a brand doing this effectively, in Super Bowl #51’s Airbnb’s #WeAccept.

When dealing with messages that try to hit home with your audiences, turns out that the message will be more important than who says it. As you might have noticed in the Airbnb commercial, we do not see their brand name opening the commercial, we only see their logo after the message, a metaphor of how the company stands behind its message.

“Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.”

In less than 24 hours after Pepsi released their Kendall Jenner spot, they announced the company would be pulling back their commercial. Pepsi’s backlash landed them a controversy-filled spotlight on Twitter’s Moments, later highlighted in their profile.

A few moments later, Pepsi sent out an announcement defending their spot against the backlash, saying of how “this is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.” View the tweet here.

A day later, Kristina Monllos (a staff writer at Adweek) received this wire:

Lead culture, do not follow culture

So why did Pepsi’s ad fail? As we already covered, it was not incorporating Kendall Jenner that caused their failure, but how the message was delivered. A prime example of brands using celebrities is Nike’s #Equality campaign. The celebrities do not serve as the spotlight, but instead help deliver the message. Have a celebrity figure stand behind the actual message, rather than just be featured in it.

You can read more about Nike’s campaign here.

Another fine example would be Twitter’s collaboration with various celebrities to tweet out Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Find the rest of the tweets here.

Different marketing styles, one message

As we talked early in the article, there is no need for celebrity endorsement if your message is already strong. Here is where the importance of leading culture comes into place. When talking about this topic, there are two sides: leading culture and following culture. Leading culture refers to be the reason why people begin talking on a subject, usually by conveying an effective message that resonates with many users. Following culture, however, touches on something that already exists with a “late to the game” approach.

Unfortunately for Pepsi, their brand has always relied on the “following culture” aspect of marketing. You might recall the Pepsi Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and Britney Spears ads. This is not to say that said commercials are bad (they most certainly aren’t), but it does show Pepsi’s heavy reliance on pop culture icons to keep them relevant. On the other side, “leading culture,” we have Coca Cola’s “I’d Like to teach the World to Sing” and “Together is Beautiful.”

What are your thoughts on the recent backlash Pepsi received for their commercial? Was their commercial justified, or was it legitimately trying to capitalize on political distraught? Leave your comments below!

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