Pepsi's Kendall Jenner ad falls flat — what brands must learn from it
© YouTube screen grab

The biggest job for any marketer is to make their audience care. This can be done through humor, by asking a question, or through drama. Sometimes it can even be done through anger — just not in the way Pepsi evoked outraged this week.

Pepsi’s latest commercial, which features reality star and model Kendall Jenner surveying a friendly protest while cops stand guard, finds a way to strike all of the wrong chords.

For starters, the advertisement shows Jenner, a 21-year-old white supermodel, join a crowd of people from all ethnic backgrounds, who are seemingly having a good time, while police officers look on with stern faces. Upon joining the crowd, Kendall grabs a Pepsi and hands it to an officer. Once he pops the tab and takes a sip, a picture is taken and the crowd erupts in applause.

To say the ad is tone-deaf would be kind.

After the social media backlash, Pepsi executives quickly realized the debacle and made a statement that the company was going to pull the ad.

PepsiCo removed the ad from its YouTube page. But this may be too little too late. How does an advertisement like this get through any sort of checks and balances in the first place? It’s inexcusable for such a significant brand to be so inconsiderate to the climate of America. Pepsi’s message is ultimately a lot like its product: Without a cap, it simply fell flat.

Twitter exploded after the advertisement was released online Tuesday night; people who have been affected by and involved in the Black Lives Matter movement said that the ad cheapened the meaning behind the protests. Thousands of tweets pointed out the exploitation of recent protests to sell Pepsi.

What the public quickly gathered from this is that Pepsi was using a national movement for equal rights to try and boost sales. The above tweet shows Leisha Evans, a 28-year-old nurse, being arrested during a 2016 protest in Baton Rouge, La. The similarities and the symbolism between the scenes did not go unnoticed.

The commercial is a stark reminder that marketers need to truly place themselves in the shoes of those in their audience. In the digital age, there are unmatched levels of competition for eyes and attention. Marketers are always thinking of ways to provide a new perspective on a trending story that allows them to join the conversation and put their brand in the spotlight.

But common sense must be used. Some issues are too sensitive to exploit. In the same way you wouldn’t bring up politics or religion at a family dinner, you don’t simplify an equal right movement with a soft drink.

So, what can marketers learn from this failure?

First, in a world where reactivity and sensitivity are at a fever pitch, it’s important to consider the power of the audience. Social media allows for every consumer to have a voice, and what people say about your brand online can be the difference between a growing brand and a PR nightmare. All brands, and especially a giant brand like Pepsi Cola, should have a quality control system in place that ensures ideas are vetted well before they are executed.

Second, a celebrity spokesperson doesn’t always result in dollar signs. Kendall Jenner may have 21.4 million followers on Twitter, but she’s ultimately famous for being a model and a character on “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” People are aware that Jenner grew up as a wealthy celebrity; she’s not exactly the perfect fit to represent the struggles of African-Americans in cities and towns across the country.

Finally, marketers can learn a lot about how to manage their reputation when backlash strikes. People magazine received a quote from PepsiCo this morning on the Twitter outrage that read, “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.”

What an incredible missed opportunity.

Once the audience reacts, it’s important to consider the merit of their opinion. Whether the sentiment of PepsiCo was to spark controversy can be debated, but whether or not the company offended the masses — both in the Black Lives Matter movement and police community — can’t.

Wisnefski is the president and founder of WebiMax and has helped thousands of clients with their digital marketing needs. Wisnefski specializes in SEO, reputation management, lead generation and social media marketing.


The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.