Pepsi released an advertisement on Wednesday featuring reality personality and top model Kendall Jenner in effort to “project a message of unity peace, and understanding.” Yet in response, social media outrage made it clear that the only thing Pepsi managed to project was an ignorance to the realities of protesting, its purpose, and the obvious fact that the solution to police brutality is not, in fact, a white woman offering a police officer a can of Pepsi.
Pepsi and the rest of the world witnessed 2017 begin with wide-spread protests of the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump and the Woman’s March for women’s rights. Protests in years prior included those in response to injustice involving the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castille. These protests occurred to stand in solidarity and in action against police brutality, racial profiling, prejudice, and injustice. It goes without saying that an up-beat advertisement featuring a Victoria’s Secret model to sell a product was not well received by the public.
The advertisement dominated conversation with memes, criticisms of the brand, Kendall Jenner, and thoughts about social justice and activism. Pepsi had no option but to remove the video from YouTube where it was originally posted and release a statement to appease the mass angst on social media and uproar of memes galore.
As far as crisis communication strategy goes, Pepsi did a good job of cutting out before it truly got ugly. Although they initially supported their advertisement and refused to stand down, they ultimately came to the conclusion that this faux pas was going to sit in the closet next to the memory of the Michael Jackson Pepsi commercial fire.
And while the statement that was released addressed a sincere apology for the poorly developed concept in the advertisement, it also contained an apology to Kendall Jenner that some were less than pleased about. Rather than using space to apologize to Kendall publically, Pepsi should have addressed the key publics that lead the opposition against this advertisement: minorities.
Key lessons to be learned from Pepsi’s mistakes:
1) REQUIRE diversity in advertising firms
2) Conduct thorough research before seeking to mold a political issue into a profitable theme
3) Do more than apologize – understand who you are apologizing to!
Better luck next time, Pepsi.. I’ll take a Coke.
Andrea Masamaba 4460-002