I want to start off by saying Pepsi ain’t ish and ain’t never been ish. This is in part because I’m a true Southerner and also 1/16th hood so the only carbonated beverages I deal with are Coke and Faygo. (and Coke can refer to anything that’s not Pepsi or Faygo including Sprite, Dr. Pepper, or whatever orange, peach, or off brand flavor your cheap uncle brought to the cookout. Shoutout to Chek. And Uncle Joe).
I also want to note that I’ve been given Pepsi ads major side eye since I saw a billboard in my hometown that said “Pepsi: A Southern Tradition”. This was a good 5 years ago but it let me know they weren’t afraid to fake hijack a culture in order to make sales. (Which didn’t work, because real southerners know Pepsi is a tool of the Yankees to keep the south from rising again. as is salsa made in new York city)
Which brings me to this pile of steaming hot mess that is their most recent ad campaign. I will, in chronological order, list all the things about this ad that annoyed
- The fact that it’s like 30 minutes long. Didn’t they tell these people millennials have short attention spans?
- The fact that there is a photo shoot in what appears to be a high-end Starbucks during a ‘rally’
- The fact that random minorities are showcased doing activities that literally have nothing to do with whatever the point of the commercial is supposed to be
- The signs. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this group of attractive young people don’t even know why they skipped work to attend this thing that is actually not really at all a protest
- The fact that Kendall removed her blonde wig before joining the crowd, which I can only interpret as her attempting to look less white than she actually is, cuz diversity is cool or whatever
- The fake and highly ineffective wiping away of her lipstick. Is this supposed to be a nod to the no make up movement? Or was there just a bug on her lip?
- The fact that the climax of the ad is Kendall Jenner walking out of a job to join a rally she obviously had no interest in attending because if so she would’ve turned down or rescheduled the job in the first place.
- The entire depiction of protests as a jolly good time to be had by all. Full of dazzling young people of every race, religion, and sexual orientation.
- The fact that there’s a random container filled with Pepsi at said rally. Because at real protests the only beverage you’re getting is water from a hose. (although I e-mailed BLM about providing snacks at their marches. No one responded)
- The smirk on the muh fuggin cops faces as he gets handed a Pepsi by a white savior. It’s a look that says ‘well gee fine, why the hell not’. Which I imagine is the same look actual cops use before pulling over black people for no reason.
- The way Kendall claps at the end. Idk why I just found it vexing
- The happiness and cheering of the crowd, as if anything was accomplished by them skipping work to hand sodas to cops.
- The fact that this ad actually makes zero sense. Are they trying to say Pepsi can cure racism, bigotry, creative slumps, AND police brutality? If so, is it the power of Pepsi alone or is it the combination of Pepsi and rich white women? Who even called the cops for this non-protest? And why did the cops seem so grumpy? There was a live band, a photographer wearing a hijab (and a nose ring. because diversity is cool or whatever), and black people dancing. Honestly, the only thing missing was cake.
- Coke did this ad way better like 30 years ago. Cuz southerners do things better. And a big part of me wants them to be savage and casually drop a link for throwback Thursday so I know it’s real.
A lot of people are wondering how this got the green light. But as a market researcher, I’m not at all surprised that any of this happened. When these big companies want to do pre-testing for an ad campaign, they go to professionals like me to help them out. Usually, the go-to for concept testing is to do focus groups. The issue comes about when you consider that the field of market research is overwhelmingly white, as are the people we report to.( you know how on black-ish there are all these white execs and then the one black exec that’s like VP of diversity? That’s hella accurate.) So those execs who are in charge of actual brands are usually white and have a very specific idea of who they want to include in research. For example, here’s a conversation I had where the client is describing who he wanted to participate in a focus group:
“I want young people in New York. They need to be cool and have interesting jobs. We can have a few consultants but we want creative people, like people who work for ad agencies or in fashion. And they have to live in New York, but only places like Manhattan. I feel like it says a lot about a person that age who would choose to live like, in New Jersey rather than like, Manhattan, and I don’t want to talk to that type of person.”
It’s not like he was intentionally being racist. It’s just that he didn’t even realize he was essentially describing privileged white people. Folks who, fresh out of college, can somehow afford to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world pursuing their dreams of writing or fashion or art (i.e. dreams that leave the rest of us broke and struggling). And white researchers often just don’t think to make sure minorities are included. And even if they are included, black people (or Hispanic people, or Muslim people, etc) are generally only the majority in a focus group when there’s a product specifically target to their demographic. For the most part, there just ends up being maybe one or two minorities sprinkled in a group of 6 to 8 people. and that one black person isn’t going to talk about race relations or politics with a bunch of white strangers. The hundred bucks or so they get for being there just isn’t worth the energy. (see also: A Case Study on the Pointlessness of Trying to Cure White Stupidity). Instead, they get extremely quiet and reserved and talk less and less as the group progresses.
Essentially, these execs get sign off from the white majority, thinking they also got sign off from the minority. And of course, they don’t bother asking for the opinion of the minorities that work at the company. Again, it’s not an explicitly racist thing. It just usually doesn’t occur to them that they SHOULD ask, and if it does, they are so clueless about how to talk to black people that they scare themselves out of asking because they don’t want to be perceived as racist.
Unfortunately, things like this happen all the time. At best, it ends up with Red Lobster wasting a prime branding opportunity with cheddar “bey” biscuits. At worst, it ends like this one, by pulling an ad that cost millions 2 days after it launched (and forcing Kendall Jenner to waste a perfectly good tube of lipstick.) The most ironic part of this massive fail is that millennials (sorry if you hate this term) actually like brands that stand for something. Yet somehow Pepsi threw away an opportunity to make a statement by not supporting or even explicitly stating a single cause. Unless the cause was #alllivesmatter. Which now that I think about it, the whole thing makes a lot more sense if you think of it not as a commercial, but as an #alllivesmatter block party hosted by Pepsi.
We like to hold up these examples to say, hire more minorities. get our feedback. look at what happens when you don’t save a seat for us at the table. But personally, I’m kind of here for letting them learn the hard way.
Disclaimer: This post was written while sipping Coke