One week ago, Pepsi and Kendall Jenner became the sacrificial lambs on the altar of the internet after the ‘Live for Now’ campaign launched. The campaign portrayed Jenner as a model who ditches her job to become the leader of the New Resistance. Depicted at a protest (although the reason for the protest is undefined), this particular rally is portrayed as an upbeat social gathering where Jenner wins over the authorities by handing them a Pepsi. The ad is being described as one of the most unaware and ‘tone-deaf’ of recent memory. But was Pepsi’s crime really that different from many politically and culturally ambiguous campaigns that came before it?
Last year, The Youth Lab did an in-depth study on the need for mission marketing and ultimately why commitment is required above all else - a message that in the wake of the last week still needs to be emphasised. This week, The Youth Lab explores why brands now, more than ever, need to commit with credibility to win young audiences.
The disconnect between associated implication and actual impact:
The issues the public had with the campaign have been debated and analysed across the globe, mainly focusing on the commodification of protest imagery and the trivialisation of police brutality. Added to this was the disconnect between the campaign’s associated implication with a cause and its actual impact or contribution to it. There was no evidence that Pepsi did anything to support this issue, other than use it to talk about its product. There was no shared value. Had Pepsi unabashedly committed to helping one of the causes it trivialised, things may have been very different. While it may have alienated some audiences on the far right, at least it would have won the hearts of those it attempted to portray.
The Power of the People: Are Brands Public Property?
In the world of digital lynch mobs and peer review tsunamis, brands are ever increasingly at the mercy of the masses. Pepsi’s ad caused outrage that contagiously spread like wildfire to every corner of the internet and brought the campaign to its knees within 24 hours. Within The Youth Lab’s work on mission marketing, we spoke about the scale of mindsets of consumer activism - from armchair altruists to explicit extremists. However, just as these archetypes can be loyal advocates for brand supported causes, they also serve as fierce adversaries when they find a message to be more opportunistic than altruistic. And, ultimately, it is their collective power that killed this campaign the very day it started.
Cause wear-out: Beware the Bandwagon
Political alignment has become a norm in the world of marketing. However, it is the varying levels of commitment that separate the Ben & Jerry’s from the bandwagoners. Considering the (offensive and trivialised) references to the Black Lives Matter movement within the Pepsi campaign, it is interesting to compare it to the likes of Nike’s recent ‘Equality’ video. Nike’s message was simple: equality has no boundaries. It was executed with a tone that was respectful and authentic, branding that was tastefully minimal (comparatively) and a credible link to the brand which Pepsi lacked. But, most importantly, the piece came with Nike’s legacy for doing social good, as well as social initiatives at a local and national level. As we spoke about last year, looking within your business is critical to determine what issues are close to your heart to provide you with a platform to credibly connect, as opposed to bandwagoning trending issues.
The Filter Bubble: beware your perception
Beyond just activating without commitment, another fatal flaw of Pepsi’s work was its painful absence of accuracy. They took a powerful social mission and in its place put a crude, superficial farce showing protests as fun, flirty social gatherings. The entire construct lacked meaning, and, most essentially, self awareness. The inclusion of social and ethnic minorities without cause felt like box ticking tokenism. Especially considering the fact that the choice for the ambassador here was a conventionally attractive, caucasian, woman who was born into the top tiers of fame and a wholly uncredible choice to represent civil unrest.
The Brand Take Outs:
The need to commit: Brands hoping to connect to young audiences through a cause need to commit to it too. As savvy marketeers, young people will not tolerate what they see as bandwagoning or perceived profiting on social injustices. Brands need to partner with credible changemakers to ensure that they are not profiting from social issues, but instead helping to drive progress.
The importance of perspective: Pepsi ultimately lacked an authentic and holistic perspective on highly charged issues such as equality. By making this a revolution led by Jenner, it did not align itself with the New Resistance - it merely made it seem detached from reality.