This week, Pepsi unveiled its “Moments” campaign and a submission to the “How On Earth Did THAT Get Approved” Hall of Fame with an ad featuring model Kendall Jenner. In the two-and-a-half-minute spot, Kendall abandons a high-fashion photo shoot to join a protest after making eye contact with an attractive protester, who had just ditched his cello performance to join the movement.
Had it ended right there, it would have seemed like opportunistic pandering. However, Kendall then hands a police officer a Pepsi, to the cheers of the crowd. The protest appears to dissolve into a party. Hey, maybe Pepsi is OK!
In a release, Pepsi says the spot “captures the spirit and actions of those people that jump in to every moment. It features multiple lives, stories and emotional connections that show passion, joy, unbound and uninhibited moments. No matter the occasion, big or small, these are the moments that make us feel alive.”
The ad has since been pulled following overwhelmingly negative reactions decrying it as tone-deaf at best. At worst, it appropriates and trivializes the Resistance movement to peddle soda. Whether or not the campaign accomplishes its objective — “something something millennials,” presumably — it’s a cautionary tale for brands hoping to mine the zeitgeist to sell their products.
A few takeaways:
The Value of an Agency
As much as we lament the client approval process in the moment, the cycle of pitching and presenting and revising helps to safeguard against incidents like these. Creators League, Pepsi’s in-house content studio, is a bold idea. But in all the meetings that must have taken place, did no one speak up and say, “Guys, this might be a bad look?” Immersion is a benefit of staying in-house, but working with an agency creates a distance that’s often necessary.
No Budget Is Immune
Next time I think, “Man, if we just had a little more to work with…” I’ll remind myself that Pepsi has piles and piles of money to spend on research and planning and concepting and talent and testing and so on. It still wasn’t enough, because this ad saw the light of day.
Know the Past and Present
Whether by intention or coincidence, the ad evokes an iconic image from demonstrations in Baton Rouge following the death of Alton Sterling. Debuting it on the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. adds another layer of “What were they thinking?” In addition to creativity and technical skill, cultural awareness and general knowledge are essential assets. A little intellectual curiosity might save you from a big backlash.