PepsiCo's Marketing Woes

Marketing Woes: The PepsiCo/Kendall Jenner Debacle

It’s only natural to feel suspicious when dealing with an entity that’s marketing something. Sure, they seem sincere, but there’s always that voice in the back of your head that asks ‘how am I being sold right now?’.

We all feel this to some degree. When we see an ad, talk to a salesperson, or even when we see a business giving to charity, we’re always aware that the end goal of that business is to make money, and money corrupts. The problem is that all this suspicion is exhausting. What we really want is a business we can trust.

That’s not an esoteric fact, kept under wraps by the marketing illuminati. No one likes feeling manipulated, and businesses have been repeatedly punished for trying to manipulate. Yet, time and time again, we see professional marketers falling into the trap of trying to make a statement without substance or conviction.

Obviously, the incentive is a handsome payday. Successfully trick your audience in to buying your messaging, and if it’s the right message, they’ll be buying your product soon enough. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that businesses haven’t successfully manipulated their customers. The same goes for thinking that they won’t in the future. So, say we set aside the ethics of deceiving a customer, what’s the incentive to mean what we say?

The answer lies in Pepsi.

PepsiCo tries to relate to the kids

In 2017, PepsiCo (or at least their marketing department) wanted to capitalise on the optics provided to the Black Lives Matter protests raging across the US at the time. So they decided to produce an advertisement that embodied the phrase ‘hedging your bets’.

The advertisement depicts super-model, Kendall Jenner, joining a protest (one with no apparent affiliation or goal apart from promoting ‘peace’). She then approaches a line of stonefaced policemen who are facing off against the protestors, and hands a Pepsi to one of them. He accepts this modern day olive branch, and enjoys with a smile.

The crux of the coming issue was that, while the imagery in the advertisement aped many famous scenes from the BLM protests (such as this one), there was never any direct reference or support expressed for the cause.

To almost everyone, it was quite obvious that this was a case of PepsiCo trying to have its cake and eat it too. If you were pro-BLM, you were supposed to see the corporation championing the good fight. If you were anti-BLM, PepsiCo could claim that they were simply in support of peace and good will. No one was fooled, and PepsiCo was forced to issue an apology after massive public backlash and ridicule:

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. 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”

In marketing, don’t come to the table if you aren’t all in

If you’ve read our blog on dealing with bad reviews, you’ll know that PepsiCo did the right thing in addressing the problem head on. That said, it doesn’t change the fact that this issue should never have arisen.

If PepsiCo had made a meaningful statement, planted their flag firmly and proudly, they probably would have had a successful ad campaign on their hands (The success of a similar campaign in support of Colin Kaepernick by Nike, illustrates that fact). Instead, the campaign’s insincerity led to lost trust, a devalued share price, and loss of market share.

So if you want to send a message, make sure you back it 100%, because I guarantee, PepsiCo can take bigger hits than most small businesses. It’s just unfortunate they didn’t have

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