Put the Product Down, Pepsi

April 10, 2017 Ophelie Zalcmanis-Lai

Why does this protest look like a block party? Why did someone bring their cello to a protest? Why is Kendall Jenner’s magazine shoot coincidentally in the middle of it all? And who brought so much Pepsi?

These are some of the questions we have about Pepsi’s recent ad campaign.

This ad was supposed to represent “the spirit of harmony.”

Unfortunately, all it served to do was trivialize an important discussion, put product placement above all other meaning and demonstrate a lack of understanding.

It’s almost been a week and people are still talking about what will be a thorn in Pepsi’s side for years to come.

This is what captured our minutes this week.  

Here’s why:

1. People love to see the establishment fail.

And Pepsi is that establishment.

Whether consciously or not, people enjoy seeing those on top come crumbling down. Perhaps it’s because people aren’t a fan of ivory towers, or perhaps it’s because they’re sick of the status quo.

Whatever the reason, there’s always a modicum of enjoyment when it comes to seeing those in power lose it.

That’s what happened here. Pepsi is one of those giant brands that’s iconic no matter where on Earth it appears. And people accept that. They know that the two soda giants are Pepsi and Coke. That these two hold the reigns on that segment of the industry.

Mostly, we all just shrug it off and order one or the other at restaurants depending on our loyalty.

So when they do something this bad, this cringe-worthy people can’t help but watch.  

2. Though a little cynical, people also love to see a good trainwreck.

See point #1.

In all seriousness, this is kind of like when people rubber-neck at an accident on the highway (don’t judge, you’ve done it before too).

The same way great content makes people say “wow, you’ve got to check this ad out – it’s incredible” people will also happily say “wow, you’ve got to check this ad out – it’s sooooo terrible.”

Sorry Pepsi, but you are the latter. From the random cellist on a roof to the people breakdancing in the middle of a protest to Kendall Jenner, this ad just doesn’t make sense – if even solely from a production standpoint.

It seemed that in the span of only 24 hours, the ad went up and was torn down by people who were internally (or externally) screaming at how bad it was.

Unfortunately no matter how many times we watch it, it still doesn’t make sense for so many reasons. That’s exactly why we keep watching it.

For a good summary of people’s reactions, check out Buzzfeed’s compilation of social chatter on the Pepsi ad.

Oh, and to see Stephen Colbert rip it to shreds, watch below (around 5:22).


3. The downfall of Pepsi’s ad demonstrates why purpose before product is important.

We could spend a whole day on this alone, so here’s a separate post on why this is so crucial, by Ron Tite.

Cole’s notes?

-Product before purpose = ridicule. Ouch.
-When you’re footing the bill, it’s hard to put the product down. Still, it’s also necessary to bring out the passion.
-Consumers are smart and they can smell a pitch from a mile away. They don’t want it.

4. It makes us think about the role of marketing within bigger, more important socio-economic discussions.

If your brand is going to align itself with big picture issues such as equality, then you’ve got to be willing to step into the arena and actually take on these issues with some real tact.

We’re just a brand, you say. We just sell products, you say. We can’t really change the word, you say.

Yeah, NO.

Brands, you have more influence than you think. Being such a privileged space of having strong connections to huge masses of people, there’s ultimately some influence there. But it has to be used wisely.

Drawing connections to things like the Iesha Evans photograph from the demonstration in Baton Rouge is not ok. That moment in history versus this ad, is not a thing.

By linking the two with similar imagery it casts a certain light on the whole discussion at hand, and unfortunately shows that Pepsi is out of touch.

Out of touch is not something any brand should want to be associated with. Because that would mean the brand only cares about turning a profit. And in 2017, with all the things going on in this world, there’s just got to be more out there than consumerism.

Brands, put your purpose before your product. Don’t let making a sale snuff out your passion. If that happens, you won’t be able to make those sales anymore.

At the end of the day, people engage with content by lending their minutes. Content is successful when its battery is fully charged with attention.

What will win this week?


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