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Organizations use celebrity endorsement to popularize their brands. Nevertheless, the marketing strategy may fail to achieve the indented purpose due to the negative projection of information. Such an incident happened to PepsiCo recently. The multinational corporation was forced to remove its advert featuring Kendall Jenner and apologize to the public. The advert featured protesters from diverse racial backgrounds who were demanding peaceful coexistence and were against the harassment of black people by the police. It showed Jenner abandoning her celebrity life to join the protesters. She walked to a police officer, handed him a can of Pepsi. The police officer sipped the soda and smiled leading to the protesters going wild (Arceneaux par. 3). Even though the company intended to relay an appropriate and innocuous message of social unity, the public regarded the advertisement as an inauthentic and opportunistic marketing maneuver. This article will critique the advert and identify what the company could have done to prevent the public from misconstruing the intended message.
According to PepsiCo’s leadership, the advertisement was meant to send an international message of peace, unity, and understanding. The company had no intention of trivializing any serious issues that affected the country or a particular race. PepsiCo Inc. alleged that the advert featured people from diverse cultural backgrounds coming together to promote peaceful coexistence (Watercutter par. 4). The company believed that such a message was essential and resonated with the demand for the respect of black lives that ensued following the killings of African-Americans by the police. PepsiCo stated in its YouTube that the advert featured “a short film about the moments when we decide to let go, chose to act, follow our passion and nothing holds us back” (Channick par. 10). It depicted the fortitude and actions of individuals who make good use of every moment that comes their way. It also featured multiple stories, lives, and emotional connections that depicted joy, passion, unrestrained, and limitless moments.
Opponents of the advert argued that the company took advantage of the national protest movement to market its brand. The move was utter ridicule of the urgency of the existing issues and diminished the severity and magnitude of why people go on streets to demand respect for the lives of minorities in the United States. The release of the advert resulted in an extensive sharing of a photo showing Leshia Evans standing calmly in front of the police during the protest against the murder of Alton Sterling. Evans, who was an African American, was arrested despite not confronting the police. Conversely, Jenner, who is white, exchanged a smile with the police. The police officer even accepted a drink from Jenner in spite of her being one of the protesters. The majority of the people failed to understand how a can of soft drink could resolve the injustice meted on the minority groups by the police. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., shared a picture of her father being harassed by police despite partaking in a peaceful demonstration. She wondered why the father had to go through such humiliation while PepsiCo had the capacity to resolve the problem. Bernice writes in her Twitter account “If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi” (Smith par. 13).
Criticism of the Advertisement
Today, marketers are trying to take advantage of sensitive social issues to market their brands without alienating the target audiences. The majority of the marketers are exploiting cultural zeitgeist as a way to remain relevant. In the case of PepsiCo, the company tried to take advantage of Jenner’s publicity and the increase in demand for social justice to market its soft drink. Unfortunately, the company failed to appreciate that Jenner was not renowned for fighting for social justice. Her involvement in the advertisement resulted in the oversimplification of the challenges facing the minority groups in the United States.
PepsiCo’s advert failed to meet the intended goal. One of the weaknesses of the advertisement was authenticity. The majority of the people were against the ad because it did not look authentic at a moment when realism is so critical, especially amid the millennials. The company was not conscious of the existing political environment. The success of an advertisement depends on its capacity to paint a current condition in a pleasant manner without seeming to ridicule any of the affected parties. Production of politically incorrect ads may have far-reaching repercussions on business. PepsiCo failed to consider the reaction of the movements that fight against social injustice in the United States. The inclusion of Jenner, a white woman, in a public demonstration comprising the blacks undermined the purpose of the protest.
The advert undermined the significance of political action. Currently, most employees are not members of trade unions. Moreover, the majority of the organizations that are bestowed the responsibility of fighting for social justice have abdicated their duties. Consequently, people view political action as the ultimate means of filling the gap left by trade unions. Research indicates that at least one out of a hundred Americans have ever participated in political action. Indeed, the public demonstration is an integral constituent of the modern vernacular. Given that, the controversial advertisement by PepsiCo was in line with the contemporary ways of advertising. In the past, companies like Burger King, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola have taken advantage of political issues to popularize their brands. Even though the PepsiCo advert may be commended for acknowledging the existence of the minority groups in the United States and the challenges that they encounter, it did that with the assumption that they were consumers. The company told the protesters angered by a government, which jeopardized and ignored them that it understood their predicament. The corporation reminded the demonstrators to try its calorie-free Pepsi Max. Jones and Yu aver, “The intentional creation of the ad with people of so many ethnicities seemed compelled” (par. 16).
The advert dubbed “Live for Now Moments Anthem” failed to appreciate the severity of issues like racism, divisiveness, and protests that affect the United States. Most advertising consultants argued that the advert degraded the seriousness of critical issues by attempting to show that a can of soda could resolve grave problems on the streets. One wonders how the company could use Jenner in such an advertisement. The ad depicted a rich, white celebrity as a public hero. The issue of presenting white stars as heroes are common in Hollywood as well as most of the advertising firms. PepsiCo’s ad relegated the African Americans and other minority groups to props in the milieu. There is nothing wrong with depicting a white person as the central character in an event featuring minority groups and vice versa. Nonetheless, it is imperative to use the right person. In the case of the PepsiCo advert, Jenner did not have a legitimate association with the cause, leading to the advert appearing phony. Moreover, it undermined the significance of the protest by portraying it as a social outing. The most upsetting part of the advertisement was where Jenner approached the police in a manner that other folks could not even dare.
The advert was a clear demonstration of how capitalism takes advantage of pandemonium and blunts its potential. Vilanova avers, “When the mainstream subsumes political action, we lose track of its target and purpose” (par. 8). A good example is when the Republican politicians intentionally capitalized on Bruce Springsteen’s Vietnam-Protest anthem for their benefits. The politicians used the song dubbed “Born in the USA” to rally the public to support them. The move resulted in the loss of the meaning of the anthem. Corporate culture has neutralized the mainstream music industry. The song “Lion” that is featured in the PepsiCo’s advert is meant to encourage people to continue the struggle. Just like the lion is the king of the jungle, the song serves an assurance to those struggling that there is no obstacle that they cannot overcome. Unfortunately, using the track in the PepsiCo’s advert affects the inspirations behind the song.
In spite of PepsiCo pulling the advertisement, it did not change the ignorance that contributed to its creation. The company’s ad tagline is “Live bolder. Live louder. Live for now” (Vilanova par. 11). Such a tagline is despicable given the conditions at play. Victims of police brutality like Philando Castile cannot benefit from the company’s products. In spite of Trayvon Martin had purchased a soft drink, it did not protect him from George Zimmerman. One wonders how dead people can “live for now”. Pepsi issued an apology to Jenner for putting her in an awkward situation because of the public outrage that followed the advertisement. The apology showed that the company did not pay attention to the plight of the black women who partake in movements that fight for social justice. Instead, it only considered the fate of the famous, affluent white woman. Today, many women play significant roles in the movements that advocate social justice in the United States. Trivializing such movements amounts to demeaning the women. PepsiCo ought to have understood that social injustices affect the lives of women from minority groups. The company owes black women an apology for failing to feature them in the advertisement.
An attempt by PepsiCo to defend its ad did not change the public perception of the advert. The company argued that the ad sought to champion peaceful coexistence amid people from diverse cultural backgrounds. It underlined the reason the advert featured people from different ethnic backgrounds. The company released a statement that described the commercial as an international advert that called for harmony amid people from diverse walks of life. PepsiCo believed that such a message was worth communicating to the public. Despite the explanation, all features of the advertisement did not reflect the intentions that the company gave. The public was not ready to buy for the reasons that PepsiCo outlined. Eventually, the company resolved to pull the advertisement and issue an apology. The corporation retaliated that it did not intend to trivialize serious matters that affected the minority groups in the United States. It also apologized to Jenner for implicating her in its slip-ups. The company’s apology did not seem genuine as it failed to consider the individuals who were directly affected by the advert. For instance, PepsiCo should have issued an apology to the families of those who died due to police brutality. One wonders why PepsiCo had to apologize to Jenner. She agreed to feature in the advertisement because it earned her handsomely. Therefore, she should have understood the possible repercussions of featuring in such an advertisement.
How the Company could have Avoided Criticism
In the contemporary world, organizations must be conscious of racial politics. The Internet enables businesses to reach the global market, thus the need to come up with well-thought-out concepts when structuring an advertisement. Ads that bear words or actions, which appear to alienate a particular group of people, may have adverse impacts on the image of an organization. PepsiCo should have considered the political environment in the United States when developing the advertisement. Even though the company had good intentions, co-opting images of individuals involved in political actions resulted in the public believing that the advert was in bad faith. It showed contempt of the injustices that force the minority groups into the streets. Some people may argue that PepsiCo meant no harm in its advert. However, it is imperative to understand that making whiteness the center of attention, unconsciously or not, is a political proclamation that might have negative impacts on the organization.
PepsiCo should have ensured that it used the right persons for the advertisement. The company should have used individuals who are known to fight for social justice. It would not have appeared as if the company is not serious about what the African Americans experience in the hands of the police. Additionally, the advert would not have seemed to alienate the minority groups. Experts claim that PepsiCo failed by letting the in-house content creation team assume the responsibility of developing the advertisement. The company should have consulted an outside agency before releasing the advert. It would have enabled PepsiCo to test the advert with a broader network of clients to determine its reception.
In conclusion, organizations are increasingly using current political issues to popularize their brands. Experts warn that organizations require understanding the prevailing political environment to avoid the target market misconstruing their advertisements. It is imperative to ensure that an advertisement does not appear to alienate a particular group of people. Recently, PepsiCo was forced to take away an ad that meant to popularize the company’s soft drink. The advertisement featuring Jenner, a renowned celebrity, received harsh criticism, particularly from the minority groups. Even though PepsiCo intended to send a message of harmony and promote peaceful coexistence amid the public and law enforcement agencies, the public thought otherwise. The company was criticized for trivializing serious matters that impacted the lives of many African Americans. A major mistake that the corporation committed was to feature a celebrity who is not renowned for partaking in the fight for social justice. The company could have avoided the backlash by ensuring that the advert featured individuals who are directly affected by social injustices.
Arceneaux, Michael. Advertising has a Whiteness Problem. Here’s How to Fix It. Elle, 06 April 2017. Web.
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Channick, Robert. “Pepsi Pulls This Controversial Kendall Jenner Ad After Widespread Backlash.” Chicago Tribune, 2017. Web.
Jones, Charisse, and Roger Yu. “How did Pepsi’s Ad Even Get off the Drawing Board?” USA Today, Web.
Smith, Alexander. “Pepsi Pulls Controversial Kendall Jenner Ad After Outcry.” NBC News, Web.
Vilanova, John. “Pepsi’s Idiotic Kendall Jenner Ad Highlights Pop Music’s Protest Problem.” RollingStone, 2017. Web.
Watercutter, Angela. “Pepsi’s Kendal Jenner Ad was So Awful it did the Impossible: It United the Internet.” Wired, 2017, Web.