You’ve seen it. You’ve read about it. You’ve laughed about it. You’ve cringed at it.
While the world is on the brink of war, Pepsi has distracted us all with one of the worst ads to ever be produced. It’s worse than Russell “Cashman” Oliver, it’s worse than “It’s Patrick, he bought life insurance”, and it’s worse than, “Help. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” It’s horrible. And we’ll be talking about it for years.
First of all, let me say this. As some of you know, I’m a BIG Diet Coke fan. I drink a ton of it and I always have. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t like or respect the Pepsi brand. I do. I have friends who work for PepsiCo, I’ve been hired to speak for them in both Canada and the US, and they are a wonderful organization with talented people. Their CEO, Indra Nooyi, is one of the most admired executives in Corporate America. They’re not some fly-by-night organization. They’re PepsiCo.
But on this day, with this spot, they failed miserably.
There’s one reason why: They put product before purpose.
To succeed in the Expression Economy, brands have to lead with purpose. They have to elevate the conversation to something that people care about. People can smell a pitch a mile away so once you’ve established a brand belief and decided what you’re going to stand for, that has to be more important than the can of soda your shareholders want you to sell.
This did the opposite. And the ridicule followed.
Believing in a diverse group of people coming together to protest against the establishment is not wrong. It’s something we all can get behind. Sadly, Pepsi didn’t get behind it. They shoved it to the side and discarded it like the blonde wig atop the head of a reality-infused brunette. They lead with selling fizzy pop. From the conveniently placed cooler of Pepsi to the blue cello case to the corporate coloured protest signs, Pepsi let the product get in the way of the purpose. They put profits before passion.
Admittedly, that’s a difficult thing for established marketers to get their head around. The debate behind the inclusion of the Pepsi blue in this spot is one that every creative has had while in the throws of production. As agency partners, it has always been our job to protect clients from themselves. When you’re footing the bill, when you have to report your work up the food chain, and when you’re judged not by sentiment of communications, but by the number of cases you’ve sold at retail, it’s natural to want to draw a more direct line from your investment to your sale. Because it was created internally, I imagine there was no one fighting for the art and soul of the original brief: let’s inspire people to be bold in their actions. There was no contrarian who stood up and said, “let’s not feature the can, let’s feature the cause.”
There’s no better example to show that old school marketing is called old school for a reason. It doesn’t work any more.
This was written by, produced by, and approved by clients - all of whom are well meaning. What it lacked, more than anything, was a voice of reason to remind them that they were supposed to be promoting protest, not pop.
They’ll learn. We’ll learn. And we’ll all be better off for it.
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