There are some things that are guaranteed to get the internet riled up. Animal cruelty, abuses of power, misspelling their/they’re/there… to name a few. However, undoubtedly the thing that gets people the most riled up is cultural appropriation, and we have seen hundreds of companies relentlessly mocked, abused, and disavowed because of poor PR choices in this regard.
The latest in the long line of companies who have done this is Pepsi, who’s recent advert featuring Kendall Jenner has been widely mocked for attempting to jump on the ‘resistance’ bandwagon. It is attempting to tap into the current outrage/protest against social injustices and political changes through an advert. There is also little in the advert that isn’t either offensive to those who are a part of this movement or looking to get involved in it. It has largely come about as a protest against Donald Trump and huge corporations, of which Pepsi is undoubtedly one of the biggest. It also chooses somebody that very few people within the movement would respect - Kendall Jenner, who is seen as little more than one of the most fame hungry members of America’s most fame hungry families.
It has been relentlessly mocked on Twitter too:
Director: "You, young urban gentleman with the interesting hair. Please come dap Miss Jenner's Pepsi can. Make it authentic." pic.twitter.com/uGJj5RWZEP
— Olivia A. Cole (@RantingOwl) April 4, 2017
SECRETARY OF STATE REX TILLERSON STATEMENT ON NORTH KOREA:
"We have placed a single can of Pepsi at the North Korean border. Their move."
— Mark Lisanti (@marklisanti) April 5, 2017
Tonight, my waiter asked if Pepsi "is ok." Here's why it's not: (1/69)
— i have died (@ChrisCaesar) April 5, 2017
It is not hard to see the thinking behind the advert. Pepsi sees that many 18-35s are following this movement, a demographic core to their business model, and wants to get involved. However, in this case it was a poorly thought out choice, showing little innovative initiative, and is more likely to turn people away from the soft drink than buy it.
As mentioned before, Pepsi are not the first company who have made this mistake and they most certainly will not be the last, however, every mistake in this area that a company has made comes down to a single element - a profound misunderstanding of the element they’re trying to tap into.
In the Pepsi example, there are strange interludes where people are singing and dancing, playing instruments, posing for selfies etc., whilst the reality is that the resistance and what it stands for is anger, frustration, and desire for change. None of this involves spontaneous parties in the midst of a protest crowd as it approaches a police line. It’s seen as a battle, but Pepsi seems to portray it as a fun jaunt for good looking young people.
Pepsi have clearly made a mistake trying to be innovative in this advert, but the same principle of understanding a problem or opportunity completely before trying to innovate within it applies to every company. It is easy to see the shortcomings of a process or product, but without understanding the fundamental reasons why these elements exist, the chances of success are low.
There also needs to be a profound understanding of who your customers or audience are and why they are doing this, not just what they are doing. Otherwise, a new idea is sure to fail, as we’ve seen so spectacularly with this Pepsi ad.