You’ve probably heard, Pepsi’s latest ad with Kendall Jenner tanked. Actually tanked isn’t the right description as it’s not like they didn’t get anyone to see it. The ad went viral, but only because they majorly cocked up and people were, quite rightly, outraged by the ad.

For those who haven’t seen it, this is the monstrosity in all it’s glory.

In case you can’t be bothered to watch it, the general gist is that we’re shown a collection of “aspirational” shots of millennials (all who happen to be drinking Pepsi and are all of different ethnicities) while a protest for some unknown cause goes on outside. There is also a photo shoot taking place with Kendall Jenner, of course, who being the human/social rights activist (?!? Who knows what the protest is for) that she is can’t help but join the march when one of the aspirational millennials from the start of the ad gives her a nod to do so. After some really weird jump cuts where she takes off her wig and then smears her lipstick across her face (without getting a smudge anywhere) she then joins the protest.

Her contribution to the protest? To stride purposefully through the march and then hand the first cop she sees a Pepsi as if this means something. The cop then proceeds to drink said Pepsi and looks at his colleague as if to say “So sue me, I’m drinking the Pepsi”, again in a manner that mysteriously suggests this is supposed to signify something.

Ignoring the fact that, as you can clearly see from the above, the ad doesn’t really make ANY sense (I mean really, WTF is supposed to be going on in that thing?) it is also extremely offensive. And it is for this reason, not the ludicrous nature of just about every other thing in the ad, that it’s been shared so many times. People were outraged, and rightly so.

What Pepsi has done in running this ad is to try to jump on the political/social activism bandwagon. There have been a lot of good reasons all over the world that have caused a large number of protests to take place recently and what Pepsi have done is try to profit from this without actually making a change for the better in anyway.

(In particular the ad has connotations of being linked to the “Black Lives Matter” movement which seeks to effect change against real and serious problems effecting peoples’ lives on a daily basis. If this was the intended link, this at best makes the ad offensive and at worst irresponsible for trivialising an important and serious issue.)

Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad Tweet

It’s not the first time this has happened either. All too frequently brands think that if they jump on the social issue that’s “popular” at that moment it will make their ad an instant success because it will show they “get “ their audience and are behind the same causes as them. Whilst this is true to a certain extent it however does not work if the brand actually has no tangible link to the cause in question.

For example look at this Pantene ad from a few years ago.

Some hailed this as being a great ad for depicting so clearly the different perceptions women face to men and at least it identified a particular social issue (unlike the Pepsi ad which just went for generic protest) but Pantene have really, in reality, just exploited the cause for their benefit here. The shampoo and this particular issue of feminism are not, in the slightest bit, related nor has Pantene done anything to change the issue it identifies.

If either of these two things were the case, the ad would be ok but they’re not. It is just another brand trying to profit from something that has a genuinely negative effect on people’s lives. That’s likely to put a lot of people off the brand.

Linking a brand with a specific social issue needs to be done with care and consideration. It can be done brilliantly, with extremely positive effects for the brand and cause in question if done correctly but brands really need to be making sure they have properly considered their links to the cause before they try to “get in on the action”.

For example the recent Airbnb Super Bowl ad did this brilliantly. Trump had just passed his “Muslim ban” and Airbnb is a company that is intrinsically linked to issues relating to travel and free passage of people from area to area and country to country since it provides accommodation for people, from people of all walks of life all around the world. They therefore ran an ad making a strong brand statement that they were not ok with the racism that seemed to be surfacing. The message was linked to their brand because of the services they provide. It also helped initiate positive change in relation to that issue by making a public statement about the issues facing the US at that time in the most watched ad break that exists therefore not allowing those who might like to, to bury their heads in the sand.

Airbnb also embody this belief in how their company behaves in that they have a zero tolerance policy for racism and discrimination and aren’t afraid to ban users who don’t adhere to this, as exemplified by the recent incident of a woman who had her Airbnb cancelled because of her race.

Or there’s Dove’s campaign for real beauty which became such an iconic campaign because it not only spoke to a real issue women were facing (being fed up with being shown unrealistic portrayals of beauty in the media) but it also became part of the positive change regarding that problem. It started showing a diverse range of women and pointed out their beauty, even when that beauty didn’t confirm to the media’s typical representations.

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

That’s when a brand can get involved in a cause and talk about it – when it’s relevant and they are doing something to bring about positive change in that regard.

Pepsi did none of these things. They just tried to capitalise on the current state of the world which is what makes the ad so abhorrent.

Any time you hear someone suggest linking a brand to a current social issue always make sure you check whether the brand in question has a real and relevant link to that cause and if they will be part of creating positive change in relation to that cause. If the answer is “no”, do everything you can to stop that ad from happening.

What are your thoughts on the Pepsi Ad and brands linking themselves to social issues? Let me know in the comments below.


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