A protest. Police. A supermodel. Pepsi. What could possibly go wrong?
Pepsi found out this April after releasing a now-pulled ad. The commercial sparked outrage due to its lack of sensitivity towards organized protests.
For those who haven't seen it, here's a summary. The commercial opens with supermodel Kendall Jenner posing for a photoshoot on a city street. Along that same street, a protest happens to be underway. Smiling protesters in the crowd beckon Jenner to join the protest. Deciding to get involved, the model pulls off her blonde wig, revealing her natural black hair. The welcoming protesters never inform her what the protest is regarding, and she never asks. While walking through the protest with a Pepsi she grabbed, Jenner is high-fived and fist-bumped by the purposefully diverse protest crowd. Jenner ultimately hands the Pepsi to one of the officers overseeing the protest. The protesters erupt with cheer, and the commercial ends.
Reactions to the ad were cringeworthy. It took less than 24 hours for the social media outcry to ultimately cause the ad to be pulled. Perhaps the most noteable critic was the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But why were people so upset?
Many asked why she handed the soothing drink to an officer rather than the anyone in the marching crowd. How was it okay for somebody who had no prior knowledge of the protest to become the star of the event?
Pepsi missed the mark because its portrayal of a protest was so unrealistic. This commercial did not "unify," which the Pepsi apology statement said was the aim of the ad. It ignored the reality and value of fighting for social justice, at a time where it is of utmost importance in this country. Whether over politics, police brutality, or women's rights - the need for protests have been heightened in recent months. Pepsi trivialized the very meaning of protests, in the name of selling soda.
It's easy to see how the PR team appeared to convey an insensitive approach to selling soda. To make matters worse, many began to express that competitor Coca-Cola has always been a better choice.
The lesson all companies can learn here is that approach to marketing is more important to consumers than a big budget. Pepsi ultimately wasted over 1 million dollars on this project. Nevertheless, I applaud Pepsi for swiftly honoring this cardinal rule: The customer is always right.