Looking at what Lessons in PR Disasters the modern marketings communications (MarCom) industry gives us the Kendall Jenner Pepsi advert has some good insight, not least the one of not hijacking a protest message and momentum to sell your product.
Whilst small to medium businesses may make their own marketing mistakes, unless they are truly Doing a Ratner the chances that their mistakes will propell a small business into the international limelight and give rise to ridicule and the epitomy of ridicule, the meme, are somewhat slim. However, for those brands and companies that do make monumental mistakes there are lessons that can be learned and applied to our own smaller businesses.
Lets take the well publicized Kendall Jenner Pepsi advert. On first hand and with an open mind I watched the advert after the backlash and whilst trying to remain objective it was difficult watching nonethlesss becasue it was so cringe worthy and tacky.
The advert genesis seems to have been an afterthought to Kendall Jenner’s involvement no different to how Dailymail online pens dozens of stories every day on the Kardashian/Jenner family as a means to serve ads. However it is difficult to not draw symbolisim with the ‘Taking a Stand in Baton Rouge’ photograph of Ieshia Evans which has become an icon of the Black Lives Matter rallies and herein lies the bigger issue in that it smacks of hijacking someone else’s voice or message as a means to sell more Pepsi, which oversteps the mark in a massive way.
If Pepsi were deliberate in their attempts rather than just insincere and inept at creating whats being referred to as #worst ad ever then it is truly shocking as whilst Marketing 101 suggests marketeers should create the problem and the product as the solution to the problem, to suggest a soft drink can cure anything, nevermind bring unity to a protest is both utterly absurd and something you would expect from the coke fuelled 80’s (the other kind, not the drink), before the internet and social media changed the playing field.
US Talk Show host Jimmy Kimmel summed it up perfectly, ”The fact that this somehow made it through — I can’t imagine how many meetings, and edits, and pitches, and then got the thumbs-up from who know’s how many people is absolutely mind-boggling,”
A lesson for the rest of us
It goes to show that even with some marketing and creative media big hitters at the helm mistakes can and will be made and the lesson here is that no one watching that advert with Kendall Jenner in it will see it as anything other than a cynical marketing ploy and if Pepsi had kept the message light and fun (or better yet, message free) it would have done its job and there would be no backlash but to suggest Kendall Jenner and Pepsi can “project a global message of unity, peace and understanding.” as Pepsi stated afterwards is utterly laughable and as such left Pepsi open to ridicule.
The lesson here is that if you try and overstate the benefits of your product, service or business you leave yourself exposed to negative criticism of your message and in turn your product, service or company and the level of negative criticism exponenitally increases with the level of your overstatement.
Pepsi and Kendall Jenner are not known or in turn respected for “unity, peace and understanding” and to suggest such whilst seemingly hijacking the imagery behind the Taking a Stand in Baton Rouge photograph of Ieshia Evans sealed Pepsi’s fate in creating a backlash.
However, whilst Pespi’s shareprice has stagnated since the advert backlash it hast fallen and time has shown that whilst this is an apparent set back in the short term its the type of PR disaster that a brand will recover from and if anything come back stronger from when the initial sting of the mistake has subsided and only the ridicule remains. Let us not forget however that ridicule and viral memes are free PR.
Crucially, the ridicule is of the adverts poor taste and not the product as if the product itself was being ridiculed for its poor taste then all those years of Pepsi Taste Challenges count for nothing, but as it stands the product is not the object of the negative criticism and herein lies what could have been a Keyser Söz-esque con by Pepsi.
Whilst it was a mistake to hijack such a serious issue and trivialize it for its own gain Pepsi have either been insenstive and inept or very shrewd and calculating knowing that once the backlash subsided and memes were going viral that the resultant PR would be incalcuably more effective at thrusting Pepsi into the limelight than the advert itself could have possibly ever done and looking at the advert, and taking Jimmy Kimmel’s observation into context, who knows? That is something to think on for yourself.
Edible is a UK focused SEO, Marketing and Reputation Management Consultancy working with a broad base of business to business and business to consumer clients across many industries such as retail, hospitality, manufacturing, research and financial services.