Pepsi & Kendall Jenner Stir Up Controversy with New Jump In Ad

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?

The Backlash

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.

Common Blunder

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.

becky-with-the-good-hair.png

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

18 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post. These creative teams really need to think past whatever it is they’re looking for in our reactions to commercials like these. I follow Mike T on twitter too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! An ad is supposed to make a company look good and make people want to support it. Pepsi should have put the demographic before the brand. They clearly missed the mark on that this time around.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Gays in the Life and commented:
    A fabulous wrap-up about the new Pepsi commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. Well said and presented.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing, Jamal!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Most definitely! It was too good not to!

        Like

  3. Jon says:

    Unfortunately, Pepsi is just gonna have to take it as it is. This will blow away eventually.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. It’s a little too late to change course now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jon says:

        Yup.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Good post it sure was off the mark!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think so too. They wanted to mix a lifestyle star with a diversity issue and that was a good idea, but the execution was poor.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. abbyniepagen says:

    Hello Alexis! I am currently studying crisis communication in my PR course at Indiana State University. We have talked about Pepsi’s ad quite a bit and some things that you wrote about stuck out to me. You discussed how Pepsi got themselves into something that a lot of other companies have as well. A lot of brands are attempting to make ads that show diversity but the public reacts in a way that it is hard to do it in the “right” way. tUnfortunately, Pepsi’s blunder is one of many in the media, by brands that aim to capitalize on diversity issues. I believe that Pepsi should have tested this ad more throughly before they released it. If it left the idea room, well many different people were involved with that? You make a good point that we never will know what Pepsi’s process was but in the end, they will be known for this ad for awhile. Nice blog post!

    Like

    1. Hi Abby!

      I’m glad you came across this post and that it resonated with you, and the points you discussed in your crisis communications class.

      It really is appalling how little thought and testing goes on behind these ads nowadays as companies and the media strive to keep up with a 24/7 news cycle, and a demand to be the first, the biggest, and the most popular. That “deliver it now” attitude is probably what’s creating a lot of problems. Even our small firm has a review process, especially where controversial ideas are concerned.

      Thanks again for dropping by. I hope we continue to be a good PR resource for you in your studies.

      All the best!

      ~ Alex

      Liked by 1 person

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