How did Pepsi get it so wrong?

Modern day media is one of the world’s most powerful platforms. It allows anyone to share, tweet and post any opinion they have, bringing issues and inequalities to mainstream attention.  This has led to an increased awareness of the issues and conflict that some people face every day, and has inspired many to fight for their freedom and their rights. Many have responded to the rising conflict in various different ways, and it appears Pepsi is one of them.

Last week Pepsi released their latest campaign to the world, in what appears to be an attempt at uniting people and setting aside their differences. For what sounds idealistic, the reality of achieving it is something else. Instead of rejoicing audiences and spreading peace, the advert triggered a public reaction of anger and shock, due to the striking similarities to protests taking place across the world. The advert followed supermodel, Kendall Jenner, as she joined a crowd of protesters, before handing a police officer a Pepsi, and in turn ending the conflict. Pepsi’s attempt to bring people together was quickly labelled ‘tone deaf’, for its appropriation of social matters such as Black Lives Matters, and use of offensive cultural stereotypes in order to appear diverse.

This advert is Pepsi’s retaliation to the increasing conflict of the world, which they made clear in their public apology when they stated that ‘Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understand’. This is an ambitious goal for what at the end of the day is just a fizzy drink, and also ignorant to assume they could do what governments and nations can’t do themselves. It is so unrealistic, that it is likely Pepsi don’t aspire to unite nations, but instead are just commercialising real issues for Pepsi sales, making light of violence, riots and people. So how did Pepsi, one of the biggest companies in the world, end up producing one of the most offensive adverts in history?

History of Pepsi

Pepsi have come a long way since they first began in 1893, originating from a drugstore in North Carolina under the name ‘Brad’s Drink’. Over a century later, PepsiCo is now a household name that is both recognizable and available all over the world. This international status has been achieved through the brands marketing and advertising efforts, which allow them to reach new customers and forge a trusting connection.

Pepsi have had plenty of successful ad campaigns, such as the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ which took light of the brands rivalry with Coca-Cola. The brand also has an extensive history with celebrity endorsements; ever since signing racing driver Barney Oldfield in 1909, Pepsi have entertained high profile contracts ever since, with the likes of Beyoncé and Michael Jackson. However, they have also had their share of failures. Madonna’s 1989 Pepsi campaign was pulled when the public were outraged by the music video for ‘Like A Prayer’ which was also the theme song for her Pepsi advert, and more recently in 2013, PepsiCo had to pull a Mountain Dew advert which was criticised for racial stereotypes and humouring violence against women. Unfortunately, for Pepsi their latest ad with Kendall Jenner has joined the list (and gone straight to the top).

The backlash

Within hours of its release it was made aware to Pepsi what the world thought of their million-pound ad, when people took to social media to voice how offended and engaged they were by the ad. Among those who responded to Pepsi was Martin Luther King’s daughter, who used the platform to ridicule the idea that protesters and police officer’s issues can be solved with a Pepsi. The tweet which got nearly 300,000 likes was one of many that highlighted how insensitive and obnoxious the concept was to those who are, and who have been affected by protests. Eventually, Pepsi succumbed to the mounting pressure and pulled the controversial ad, along with a statement that apologised for ‘missing the mark’, which is an understatement if there ever was one.

It appears that the fault lies within Pepsi’s over ambitious goals; the attempt to achieve world peace sets it starkly apart from previous campaigns that have focused around lighter topics and entertainment. Whilst it is an admirable goal from Pepsi, it is unlikely that Pepsi or Kendall Jenner who come from privileged backgrounds would relate to the reality of global inequality. A fact which was evident throughout the campaign, within the token characters or the glorification of violent riots to name a few.

What’s next for Pepsi?

This advert is a fail of epic proportions and it’s safe to say Pepsi won’t be able to forget it anytime soon. With the advert making headlines all across the world as the most offensive advert to date, Pepsi’s PR team will be on the defence for some time. Releasing a statement to acknowledge and apologise isn’t going to make the public forget anytime soon, and could cause some lasting damage to Pepsi’s brand image. People are already creating content at Pepsi’s expense furthering their status as an international joking; such as SNL who have already released a parody video of the ad, that has since gone viral.

You can only imagine the size and expertise of the advertising team at Pepsi, and that is why it is so shocking that this advert was the end product. How did no one spot the errors of the ad, or simply question the message it showing? For this Pepsi’s deserve the consequences and ridicule that they’ve bought on themselves. This will serve as a wakeup call to not just Pepsi, but all advertisers and marketers in the industry, and remind them that diversity is not a concept you can sell, but a harsh reality that bites back.

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