Adland Responds to the Great Kendall Jenner Pepsi Debacle

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When Pepsi dropped their no-doubt incredibly expensive and undeniably ambitious new ad earlier this week, they probably had no idea that, by week's end, the spot would have dominated global headlines, which is particularly impressive, given the other, significantly more abhorrent things that have been happening in the world this week. Not to mention the OTHER great adland misfire, with Nivea and the great "White is Purity" mistake. Still, in times as uncertain and terrifying as this it can be comforting to fixate on the things we can actually do something about, and the internet at large certainly did something about the now notorious Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad; it got the thing pulled in just over 24 hours, complete with a half-hearted apology. But what did the great and the good of adland have to say about it all? Ladies and gentleman, look no further!

Remco Graham, ECD and partner at Now

The power of saying no. In today’s advertising landscape of collaboration, it’s just as important as saying yes. If a team at Now had come to me with the thought of Kendall Jenner solving institutionalised racism by giving a police officer a fizzy drink it would have been a no. It wouldn’t have got out of the door. Let alone to a client. The question we have to ask ourselves is does having an in-house agency make it harder to say no to the client? Because sometimes, saying yes to everything can give you the worst advert ever made.

Maarten Van Daele, strategist at Creature of London

If PepsiCo’s marketing department had chosen to pay for a (good) creative agency where people from different backgrounds/nationalities work together to make the best work, this “ad” wouldn’t have been so shit. Both this campaign and the way it backfired show just how important diversity – of thought, as well as gender and ethnicity – is for creative companies. And how it might be our industry’s biggest competitive advantage. Hopefully PepsiCo understands that now… unfortunately, they had to find it out the hard way.

Lilian Sor, head of planning at Grey London

It’s too easy to piggyback the cultural sentiment of today, the increasing sense of divide and restlessness that is felt in the world. A team that was truly living and feeling the cultural zeitgeist rather than observing it would never have let this slide.

Steve Challouma, marketing director at Birds Eye

An ad agency could have come up with that kind of idea as well – I don’t think the fact that it was internally produced increased that risk. But I’d be very interested to see what due diligence they did around this. Given the negative response it had, it would be very surprising that they wouldn’t have picked up on this response.

Ben Kerr, chief strategy officer at Somethin’ Else

It is a rather a naïve box-ticking exercise as Pepsi tried to attach itself to what it thought was a populist bandwagon. A data-inspired execution that lacks any genuine understanding of who the audience are and how they think. I suppose the one area that Pepsi got something right is that young people are politically engaged in the issues they care about. The data was right on that one. Now rather than just take down their ad, they need to demonstrate that they do care and do want to help make change happen. It’s not enough to apologise you need to do something about it. I doubt the audience will ever begin to forgive them until they do, and then they’ll see the power of protest as people stop buying their fizzy drinks. Better act quickly Pepsi.

Seb Hill, ECD at BBD Perfect Storm

It is so bad I think “doing a Pepsi” will enter the vernacular as a way to describe something highly inappropriate and embarrassing. In 1971, when Coke "taught the world to sing" I don’t think anyone ever thought a sugary drink could solve the world’s problems – but at least it was done in a charming, catchy and celebratory way. It’s 46 years later, people are far less likely to buy it from a crude, patronising, unauthentic rip off. The world is more cynical than ever and this is the worst kind of see-through greenwash.

David Billing, ECD at Above & Beyond

Pepsi has foolishly jumped in at the deep end. This is a bloody serious cultural trend, one where people around the globe are genuinely worried about whether democracy itself is dying. If Pepsi had something to say, it needed to be amazing. It needed to raise the debate, reflect it or contribute to it. Instead, this is a cynical, messy, wild misunderstanding of the public mood. Trying to sell Pepsi as western liberalism crumbles is like selling 99 flakes on the deck of the Titanic.

Jon Goldstone, global managing partner at the brandgym

The trend towards in-house content creation teams has many positives. They can produce cut-downs or adaptations of existing assets quickly and at a fraction of the cost of external agencies. However, they do have their limitations. For something this important, I would have expected Pepsi to work with one of their long-standing creative agencies. These are the people who deeply understand ‘tone’ and are not afraid to push-back when the client asks for something that they believe may ultimately damage the brand. To quote the brilliant Dave Trott, “a case of asking decorators to do the plumbing?”

Jane Asscher, chief executive and founding partner at 23red

The ad was very ill-conceived in that it tried to be relevant in a space that it should not have tried to infiltrate. Although, arguably, it’s aim was to demonstrate those from all walks of life coming together (albeit via a soft drink) – an on-the-surface good-hearted sentiment – in fact what it did was over-simplify the recent troubles and inequalities that many people across the world feel strongly about. Unfortunately, the world’s problems won’t be solved by a Pepsi. Fortunately, at least everyone’s agreeing on that.

Ryan Newey, founder of Fold7

Pepsi released a statement acknowledging “they’d missed the mark.” And miss the mark they did, largely I imagine as a result of a box ticking creative process. You know the drill, it goes a little like this: “We need scale, meaning, context and a role for the brand” (reasonable so far...) “and we need the product in early, research shows that’s good, oh and we need to make as much of it blue as possible, it should feel Pepsi throughout” (errr branded protesters… ok.) Cut to the next meeting: “We’re liking this idea around uniting people but I think we’re missing a celebrity, lets get a celeb at the heart of it. Oh and the strategy is live bolder so lets show that moment of change, where someone has the courage to be who they really are.” Ok, consider it done “and this whole protest thing, it’s a bit angry, lets make it a bit like a concert with musicians.” And so it goes on, the boardroom shuffle, layer after layer of boxes being ticked, each nudge hidden behind a wall of consensus. The ad literally ticked all the boxes yet fundamentally not the one that matters; sincerity.

Jules Chalkley, chief creative officer at BMB

It’s a case study for when advertising goes bad. This is a corporation misconceiving its role in the world to a breathtaking degree. Not only does it unite the internet against Pepsi, it also unites it against the industry we live and work in. The challenge to create work that is valid, relevant, sensitive and progressive just got way, way harder.

Tom Casswell, international planning director at Havas Media

PepsiCo claimed it “missed the mark” with its latest ad. It did not just miss the mark, it glanced at the mark before firing blindly in the opposite direction. This ad is staggeringly lazy, and highlights a breath-taking corporate arrogance. The result is an abomination.

Senan Lee, creative at Cheil London

An idea that’s as watered down as the product. It feels as if you’re watching something that has had every comment from testing applied to it. From the cellist on the rooftop, to Kendall bopping a Pepsi can with her fellow protestors, the amount of patronising clichés it’s filled with makes it truly unique.

Alex Smith, planning director at Sense

Despite the furore around the Pepsi ad, there should still be glimmers of hope to be found for the brand. Rarely has any ad generated so much buzz. Pepsi is now simply more famous than it was a week ago. A brand that hasn’t made ripples for a long time has just cannonballed into the pool of public consciousness, and the principal residue that will be left behind will probably be simply fame. For a product that’s bought on impulse, with little deliberation by a fairly disinterested buyer, that’s not such a bad result.

Nadim Sadek, CEO of market research agency TransgressiveX

Is any civilised person against ethnic diversity in brand representations? Of course not. Is addressing the current tornado of civil, military and national brutality wrong? Not in any way. But the ham-fistedness of the brand’s attempted manipulation of a knowing, cultured audience’s sentiments, has exposed that it’s really not only the message, but also the medium, which really counts. Because the manner in which you speak often says even more than the words you utter. One guesses that this misadventure resulted from an internal team too keen to prove its worth, unfiltered by the stinging cold air one meets when sharing thoughts and constructs with non-invested people. There are probably lots of lessons for us all to learn, and let me not be the first to cast a stone – I’ve misjudged plenty in my time. Interaction is what we all need. And a greater inclination to interact is the definition of success for a brand.


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