How Not to Market For a Cause: Pepsi’s Ad Featuring Kendall Jenner

You have to be living under a cave if you have not come across the latest Pepsi Ad featuring Kendall Jenner yet. I wouldn’t blame you for not viewing it while it was still on Pepsi’s page because it was taken off within a few hours thanks to extreme online backlash.

What was this ad all about?

Well, this ad was an attempt by Pepsi to target millennials by showing unity amongst the youth from all walks of life while they protest for a cause.

At least that is what it was intended to be. What people really took away from it turned out to be world’s apart:

As CNBC puts it, “In the ad, Jenner is seen posing in a blond wig at a photo shoot, while a peace protest marches by. She then ditches the wig, grabs a can of Pepsi and joins the protest. Jenner gets to the front and hands the can to a police officer, who drinks as the crowd cheers.”

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Sounds pretty simple, but is it? The ad, specially this part of it has been compared to the Black Lives Matter movement and, more specifically, with the image of Ieshia Evans who had been arrested during a protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2016. Twitter has been flooded with criticism and responses from celebrities and many other influencers.

As I mentioned in my last post, well-defined execution is key to an impactful cause marketing campaign. While Pepsi was taking a shot at capitalising on the current political activism and advocating unity for the youth from all walks of life to come together and fight for their rights, the way they executed the campaign just did not seem right. It actually casted doubts into the ad strategy. One of the main criticism of the ad was that the strategy team probably did not have the right insights into the type of people who protest, have been affected by the Black Lives Matter or other prominent protests. The Guardian sheds further light on it and states that the cause is anything but clear “as their banners, in the Pepsi colours, consist of painted love hearts, peace signs and the slogan “Join the conversation”. Perhaps they’re fighting for the rights of teenage diaries?”

After all the great marketing campaigns by Pepsi, it is quite a disappointment to see a poorly executed advertisement that (pretends to be) advocating a/an (extremely vague) cause. With great marketing really does come great responsibility. Cause Marketing is categorised as an important category, more likely an avenue for brands to not only show what they stand for but also, to use mass communication and lend a voice to people who suffer from a variety of social issues and look for a platform that they can relate to. In the light of recent affairs, this ad was for millennials to be inspired “to let go, choose to act, follow their passion and not let anything hold them back.” However, in effect, it just conveyed a confusing message and ruined the brand’s image.

However, Pepsi has been quick to take responsibility and respond promptly:

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding,” the release said. “Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout.”

This hasn’t helped their case as much because people are still enraged and starting a movement to boycott Pepsi products until they issue a more comprehensive apology for the ‘blasphemy’.

Good luck, Pepsi!


5 Secrets of a Successful Cause Marketing Campaign

What is Cause Marketing after all? Several people think that its a recent phenomenon, a recent fad. It is indeed a trending buzzword but to no surprise, Cause Marketing has been around since the late 20th Century. The concept was born in 1976 as a result of a novel partnership between Marriot Corporation and the March of Dimes. The two organisations worked in collaboration to promote Marriot’s family entertainment complex in Santa Clara California while raising funds for the March of Dimes’ cause – the prevention of birth defects in babies. This partnership led to a great successful on both counts, and corporations around the globe followed suit.

Nowadays, Cause Marketing campaigns have expanded upon this phenomenon. They have internalised the causes within their branding and run their campaigns over an elongated time period, often for years. The factors that go into making a successful cause marketing keep evolving, so what are its core values of success? Let’s have a look:

1. Be Genuine

What matters the most to you? Is it something you and your team believes in? Make sure that this is what you really stand for.

2. Internalise the Message

Be consistent in your messaging. It is an art to integrate the brand story with the adopted cause and weave a campaign that is targeted, honest and trustworthy.

3. Formalise Your Affiliation

Bring your NGO-in-focus on board, include them in your communication and ensure that they do the same. Partner with them for join communication.

4. Well-Defined Execution

The process does not stop once you have formed an affiliation with an NGO. That is just the beginning.


Nothing less than equal.

The International Women’s Day 2017 marks a day to celebrate women in the world. This day is generally marked with acknowledgements of successful women in the past and the leading women of today. Previously, agencies had adopted a trend of putting together homegrown marketing projects and NGOs had advertising campaigns around this theme. However, now with cause marketing on the rise, prominent brands have used this day to advocate their commitment to gender equality.

Apart from the “fearless girl” that bravely stands in front of the charging bull of Wall Street, that calls for more women at the executive level, top brands have released video and social campaigns that capitalize on gender stereotypes and advocate for women’s rights. Amidst a number of campaigns including Nike’s global efforts to target stereotypes, Tory Burch’s message to embrace ambition, Microsoft’s “Make What’s Next” and Burger King’s super adorable “Can you be our burger queen”, I found United Benetton’s #UnitedByHalf campaign to be my favorite.

I fell in love with this campaign due to a personal bias. It not only targets gender stereotypes but also hits close to home as it is based on South Asian women. United Benetton has its second largest market in India and its popular amongst the men hence, the ad spot encourages them to recognize women as equal partners.

The 90-second ad spot aptly captures a snapshot of the desires of progressive South Asian women. Contrary to societal norms, it shows them in non-traditional roles, performing activities that are non considered “appropriate” or “fitting” for women. The voiceover of the spot takes up a stern tone and demands equal rights for women as it encourages them to settle for nothing less than equal and, for men to acknowledge them. The spot has a strong ending as it concludes with “Women have been denied their half for far too long, let us unite for the equal half.” Hence, the ad positions the brand as a platform that not only advocates gender equality but also provides for a platform for women to unite and demand for their rights.

This ad hits close to home because in the South Asian culture, women are often overlooked as equal partners. Traditionally, they have been considered to be homemakers and usually denied an equal opportunity be it at home or at work. However, trends are now changing: Women are more informed about their rights and they are demanding for better treatment. Hence, ads like these highlight issues from a woman’s perspective, drive important conversations and make men more aware.


Equality extends beyond the field.

The big brands are at it again. Super bowl was the ideal time for brands to release some of their best advertising spots- spots that they spend millions of dollars on. To match up to their investment, brands spend day and night to resonate with their target audience in the best way possible. Gone are the days (at least in the US) when brands would only talk about product features. Now, their messaging is above and beyond the basic functions of product. The best brands have owned the responsibility that comes with mass advertising. They instill messages that can capitalize on the cultural constraints of the society, identify where things are going wrong and how they can be fixed. Nike’s equality campaign is an ideal example of this.

It appears that Nike has owned the theme of empowerment as its last two ad campaigns had a similar theme but different focus. “Da Da Ding” was based on women empowerment and “Unlimited You” empowered individuals to live their potential to the fullest. As a continuation of this theme, Nike lays its focus on racial equality in its recently released advertisement by name of “Equality”. This ad spot uses an excellent blend of audio and visual cues to depict its message. The voiceover by Michael Jordan begins with a bit of nostalgia as it questions whether the current state of affairs in the nation are what the land had promised. The video progresses to show a sports ground as a level playing field where you are judged by your skills, qualities and actions and not by your race, color, sexual orientation or religion. The video shows a beautiful concept as it extends the sports boundaries outside field and into the roads and other spaces occupied by us in our daily lives. This is in order to convey the message of extending equality beyond the field.

The timing of this campaign could not have been any better. It has been released during the Black History Month which celebrates the achievements of prominent African Americans in the country. Its hard to miss that the majority of spokespersons in the spot belong to this race and are the champions of the respective sports that they play. Moreover, this ad has been released during a time when minorities are fearing discrimination specially because of the political scenario. Hence, this ad spot gives a voice to many of those who have been discriminated against or fear potential discrimination. It is also a means of influencing the masses with the values of equality in an attempt of creating a positive impact.

Power of Cause Marketing

It’s fascinating to see that brands advertising simple commodities have been able to positively influence the masses to think and act for the betterment of the society.

“My chin sort of protrudes a little bit, especially when I smile” she said, as she described herself to an artist, who was sketching her portrait. Once the sketch was complete, the artist asked another person to describe her features. The two sketches were starkly different from one another; it did not seem like the same woman at all. The first one was characterised by exaggerated features, which are conventionally known to be unattractive, reminiscent of a caricature. However, the second sketch depicted a more appealing version of the woman, in fact one closer to reality. This popular marketing campaign that explored the gap between how others perceive us and the way we perceive ourselves, does not need much of an introduction – the Real Beauty campaign run by Dove has aimed to transform the hegemonic and possibly socially constructed definition of ‘beauty’ in order to enable millions of women to view themselves in a more positive light, hence building their self esteem. This socially responsible and widely influential campaign has been my strongest source of inspiration to enter into the field of cause marketing.

It is interesting to see how a brand advertising the simple commodity of soap, a commodity that merely cleanses your body, has intelligently capitalised to challenge the cultural constraints of society and brought about an intellectual transformation for the masses. This, in essence, is the power of an effective cause marketing campaign.