What We Can Learn From Pepsi's Latest Advertising Misstep

Britton Lorentzen
Designer, marketer, and owner.








Published: April 10th, 2017

Pepsi recently came out with an advertisement that is highly questionable. It’s an advertisement for their new “Live for Now” campaign that features Kendall Jenner among a cast of folks that break from their daily lives to join a peaceful protest. The choice of music and cinematography were great. However, the message Pepsi conveyed was heavily construed and angered many of their customers. Here are some of the things we can learn from Pepsi’s latest mistake that can help you craft a better message for your marketing campaign.




Conveying a Social Message is Tricky

We live in a brave new world where marketers and businesses are experimenting with campaigns that hold a position on a social issue. Not long ago, there were all sorts of people coming out against Chick-Fil-A for their stance on gay marriage. However, this social stance worked for Chick-Fil-A because they are a heavily christian company that typically markets their business towards families with heavy christian values. This resulted in the company getting both positive and negative press from issuing the stance.

Pepsi doesn’t have much room in voicing a social message. They are a global brand that serves billions of customers all over the world. This means that Pepsi is forced into making ads that are heavily diverse and convey a worldly message. The downside of having such a worldly influence is that consumers are more sensitive to how Pepsi communicates their message. For the advertisement we’re talking about today, Pepsi felt the best way to convey diversity while communicating their message for “living in the moment” was to bring in a couple different cultures along with Kendall Jenner to join a protest. The moment they brought in Kendall Jenner was the moment Pepsi invited every millennial to come look at the advertisement and completely obliterate it on social media.

Millennials have an uncanny ability to call companies out that they feel exploit social messages for capital gain. For small businesses, it may be enticing to communicate a social message and hope that customers follow along with it. Before communicating any kind of social message, make sure it’s a message that aligns with your goals and company values. There should be a good reason why your company is communicating a social message. For example, the shoe company Tom’s has a well-documented process for their social stance and how they give back to the community. Any company that holds a position on a social issue should have documentation and evidence on why they hold their position and what they do to contribute towards a cause. It isn’t enough to communicate a social message without having tangible proof that your company actually contributes towards the cause.




The Right Way to Craft a Social Message

Small businesses don’t need to pull off big acts of social activism to earn customer’s trust. Sometimes all that’s necessary is to participate in organizations that have a big presence in your community. For example, if you’re a local sandwich shop and you know that a local high school football team is headed to a state competition, you could donate sandwiches to the team and communicate your support for the team to your community. This is a great and effective way to show that you care about the same things your customers care about. Small acts like this are more effective in communicating your message compared to companies that throw up a post as a way to show support without offering much value. Showing your customers what you’re contributing to the community is much more valuable than showing support and offering no value.




The Moral of the Story

Don’t communicate a social stance until you have hard evidence on how you support that stance. Customers in today’s market are hyperaware and fast to call out companies on their insincere social messages. When you have a social message to share, be prepared to back up your message with evidence on how you’ve contributed to the cause. There’s nothing worse for your marketing than a customer base that’ll be quick to call you out and challenge your position.




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