Watching the environment in which you release your brand messages is pivotal.
Ask Pepsi PR team, they learned that the hard way.
In April 2017, the soda company teamed up with the supermodel from the Kardashian Clan, Kendall Jenner, for a commercial that supposedly conveys a message of unity and overcoming differences.
Kendall in the midst of a photo shoot, while a protest takes place on the streets just steps away from where she is posing. The camera cuts between the protesters, with people of all identities joining together to march with signs depicting the peace symbol. As the ad continues, it becomes increasingly obvious that Kendall wants to join the protesters, then approaches a line of police officers, and she hands an officer an ice-cold can of Pepsi. There is a pause, and then the officer pops open the can, yielding cheers and applause from the protesters.
Over the next 48 hours, the commercial was streamed nearly 1.6 million times on YouTube. Unexpectedly, the ad caused national backlash in the USA; the ad obviously struck a nerve for the American people.
At that particular time, the political scene in the US was unstable and divided, with streets overflowing with protests and so, severe criticism against the ad accused Pepsi of capitalizing on the political and social climate, and compromising the cause; Pepsi’s commercial almost seems as though it’s trivializing the purpose of these widespread protests.
The American people stormed to the social media platforms pouring their anger in tweets and posts, tagging Pepsi.
Initially, Pepsi released a statement, as an official spokesperson for Pepsi explained: “The creative showcases a moment of unity, and a point where multiple storylines converge in the final advert. It depicts various groups of people embracing a spontaneous moment, and showcasing Pepsi’s brand rallying cry to ‘Live for Now,’”, but with the backlash going nonstop, within 24 hours, they pulled the ad and paused the campaign entirely, and Kendall herself came in front of a camera to apologize for the misunderstanding.
It can be argued that these themes of spontaneity and unity could easily be depicted without co-opting the resistance in the process, after all, protests aren’t necessarily solely about unity, but rather about justice and fighting for what’s right.
Written by: Mayar Mosaad