How Pepsi Proved That Not All Publicity is Good Publicity

April 4th is the anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King‘s assassination as well as the birthday of Dr Maya Angelou, two highly respected African-American leaders and prominent civil rights activists. April 4th 2017 is also the day on which Pepsi decided that it would be apt to release an advert featuring Kendall Jenner of the Kardashian empire. It featured many key prompters and clear triggers designed to generate a buzz and cause a stir. It worked but for the wrong reasons – this was more than a buzz this was a PR disaster.

Some people argued that the advert served its purpose, it generated publicity and buzz and thus worked. However that is an oversimplification of the core purpose of publicity and advertising at its core. I’m bored, and quite frankly tired, of people thinking that any publicity is good publicity.
No it isn’t.

The only soft drink that should create a buzz

Just because Pepsi were being talked about doesn’t mean it was for the right reasons. There was significant brand damage caused by the insensitive nature of the advert, despite the fact that they apologised, which in this instance was a non-apology. They took the time to direct address the apology towards Kendall Jenner who chose to participate and get paid for the advert and yet did not apologise directly to the communities that they offended, specifically the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I found it bizarre that a company that wanted to promote a “global message” would direct more compassion towards their celebrity brand ambassador than members of the public who are supposed to be spending more on their products. It completely contradicts the basic principles of brand loyalty, in this instance the customer must always come first and by undermining this backlash ensues. I note that Miss Jenner has not (at the time of writing this piece) apologised for her participation in this commercial which is interesting.

It is reductive to assume that just because they were trending and the ad went “viral” that it would mean more money for them. In a social media age, people have the power to hold major corporations to account, in the past a company like Pepsi might have used their size and gravitas to pretty much do whatever they wanted in terms of publicity stunts and advertising. By excusing the advert as not being a big deal because there are more important things to think about in the world also ignores the power of influence, not just of Pepsi but of an individual like Kendall Jenner who has a major following and seems to be popular across some pop culture networks. We cannot ignore the importance of accountability here otherwise we will allow corporations to continually miss the mark on diversity and inclusion when it comes to representation on their boards and teams. Afterall would a truly diverse marketing team allow that advert to have been broadcast after completion or were the naysayers silenced in favour of spreading that “global message”.

I mentioned this whilst speaking to BBC News on the subject:

Civil rights activism is not a game, people have died at the hands of police brutality and a soft drinks ad is basically trivializing it for “global unity” using a number of basic and ill thought out concepts. Here is how Dr King’s daughter responded:

It is time for corporations big and small to be more mindful in how they use Advertising, publicity and marketing to promote their brands particularly when dealing with cultural sensitive issues.


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