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!