How to avoid an advertising debacle like Pepsi's advert

On the 4th April, Pepsi released their new ad, ‘Jump In’. Within 24 hours, it was pulled from broadcast. The short film featured wealthy A-lister, Kendall Jenner boldly exiting a photo shoot to join a mass of young, raucous (yet seemingly cheerful) protestors. Brazenly walking up to the police line, she hands over a can of Pepsi to one steely officer. The policeman smiles. The crowd cheers. End of protest, it seems.

Mirroring iconic scenes from movements around the world, including Ieshia Evans’ defiance in the Baton Rouge protest, and the anti-war activists demonstrating ‘flower power’ outside the Pentagon Building in 1967, the Pepsi ad has been the subject of widespread backlash, as many believe it trivialises protests, mocks the real issues behind such movements and is, in short, a complete fail.

For one, what is it with Pepsi and their shameless celeb game? They’ve been throwing A-listers in our faces for a while now, and I’m confident not to be the only one tired of it. We’ve had Britney, David Beckham, and Beyoncé - all romantically (or passionately, whichever way you look at it) sipping pop.

As a society, perhaps we’re now desensitised to seeing wealthy ‘celebs’ highlight the refreshing qualities of a brown carbonated drink. I am. Maybe we want Coca Cola’s stance more. The smart, sleek Share a Coke. Or the simple but brilliant Choose Happiness. For me, the fickle celeb ad set is over. As sustainable advertising gets bigger, perhaps it’s time we say goodbye to flash, fame-obsessed and egotistical campaigns like this.

Working for a digital marketing agency that has several rounds of processes for each piece of work created, I wonder how did such an obviously insensitive idea get signed off by all involved – even accepted by Kendal Jenner? The ad was created by Pepsi’s in-house creative team, and I beg to question whether a project like this would ever have survived the scrutiny and examination that often comes with outsourcing work.

Although we may never find out the answer to the above, we can use the Pepsi advert, and its reaction around the world, to teach us a few things about marketing.

1. Be authentic

No, a can of soda cannot help the world overcome its issues, from police brutality to human rights. Nor will it ever, as highlighted by Bernie King, youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr, in her response tweet. Pepsi’s ad was completely unrealistic, and the handing over of a fizzy drink belittled the outcome of the very movements it was trying to appropriate. If you are mirroring a situation, make it authentic. Otherwise, you may break the mirror and end up cursed for years to come.


If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.

— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 5, 2017


2. Do your market research

Would Pepsi’s ad have been created if they had interviewed people from the frontline of protests as part of their market research? If they did, the narrative in the ad may have been different, or more realistic. Perhaps we wouldn’t have a reality TV star worth £3.2 million showing the world how easy campaigning for your human rights are.

Pepsi had the opportunity to get protesters on-board and create an ad that really would project “a global message of unity, peace and understanding.” Instead, they ostracized the very people they wanted to depict.

3. Don’t get lost in your idea

We all know from creative ideation sessions that it can be easy to go off-track when thinking of the ‘big idea’. That’s what the sessions are there for; to bounce ideas off each other, to create legs for those ideas – even though we know a lot of this work is destined for the ‘cutting-room floor’. It’s great creating ideas, but there needs to be someone that screens the output against the brand, and highlights the problems.

A good idea is nothing without the context. You need to take the overall view, rather than just viewing the idea in isolation.

4. Say ‘no’ if you need to

Bold ideas are great. But bold decisions are worth even more. Following the backlash, Pepsi wasted no time in removing the ad and apologising. Although it’s hard to imagine how much it must hurt to spend millions on an ad, whatever time or money has been invested in a campaign, if it’s not right, you have to scrap it. Just throw it in the bin. And start again.

5. Remember social media

We’re in 2017. Your audience now have a voice. It’s different from 20 years ago when criticism was found in the review pages of a newspaper. Social media helps identify what people think of your brand – but it can also generate snowballing criticism of your campaign. Use social media as an opportunity, and don’t forget that in this day and age, if your campaign isn’t liked, you’re likely to find out soon enough. Much to the chagrin of Pepsi’s marketing chiefs.

At Delineo, we're a Manchester-based digital and creative agency, offering creative campaigns that get our clients noticed. Want to find out about the campaigns we’ve worked on that have been very well-received? Read our case studies!