When it comes to public relations and marketing, Pepsi Co. is a brand to be reckoned with. Over the years, the mega-food company has attracted the endorsement of pop culture and music legends like Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Britney Spears, Beyoncé Knowles, Aretha Franklin, and The All-American Rejects.
So why not Kendall Jenner?
But when Pepsi released the Jump In commercial, starring Jenner, on April 4, 2017, it was not to critical acclaim. Journalists and consumers alike labelled the ad “tone-def”, and called it an appropriation of the Black Lives Matter campaign to sell a can of soda.
Symone Sanders, a CNN Political Commentator said:
Literally, Pepsi just used Kendall Jenner to co-opt the resistance to sell a freakin’ can of soda. Okay?
There were no police pictured in riot gear as they often are when Black and Brown people are putting their bodies on the line to protest police. This is absolutely crazy.
And the commercial centered a White woman in the middle of the movement… I cannot.
On Twitter, Pepsi’s reputation fared no better. Consumers quickly looked to Coca Cola to wonder what was happening behind closed doors with their own marketing team. Here is one very telling prediction:
Pepsi responded to the backlash by saying:
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.
Unfortunately, Pepsi’s blunder is one of many in the media, by brands that aim to capitalize on diversity issues. Many critics pointed out that if Pepsi’s PR team had included a more diverse mix, the ad would never have left the idea room.
In fact, Pepsi’s ad rings a strikingly familiar tune to Glamour’s own diversity-scandal last summer, when they hopped on the Lemon bandwagon and was promptly thrown off by minority groups and Beyoncé fans in America and the UK.
What happened? The company completely misinterpreted the term “Becky with the Good Hair” and paid the heavy price. Two coworkers named “Becky” who were pictured with “great hair” got caught up in the mix.
The Way Out
Glamour, however, apologized. Pepsi has not.
Pepsi likely meant no harm, and probably meant to show support for “the resistance”. However, when it comes to sensitive and controversial topics in the media, it’s not for brands to decide what makes the cut. It’s for the demographic involved to make that decision.
There are two ways Pepsi could have done this to prevent a scandal.
- As many people pointed out, having a more diverse team, or at least using one for this specific ad could have led to better cast, wardrobe, and storyboard decisions.
- And finally, testing the ad more thoroughly on the demographics it represented could have also forewarned the company of possible backlash.
In truth, there’s no telling what steps Pepsi did or did not take, and where they went wrong. But for some time, consumers will remember the ad as #ThatAwkwardMomentWhen Pepsi went from singing with the stars to a “tone-deaf co-op of the resistance”.
Is your brand or business planning to tackle diversity issues in its ads or campaigns? Our diverse team spans four ethnic groups, three nationalities, three languages… and two species. With our help, your brand will be singing exactly the right tune to a diverse audience.