Picture the scene: one of the most famous Millennial faces in the world, hot topics of protest and togetherness, a hippy moment and some seriously cool double denim. Doesn’t that sound like a recipe for advertising success to you?
Well, while the recent Pepsi ad staring Kendall Jenner – as a model who joins a protest and then heals the world by giving a policeman a Pepsi – might have looked good on paper (did it though?), the reality was very, very different. Pepsi pulled the ad almost immediately after social media went postal and everyone from Saturday Night Live, to the Independent is still talking about how terrible it was.
So, what did they do wrong?
It wasn’t well intentioned
Max Lenderman’s US ad agency has built cause-driven projects for big brands like Nike and Microsoft – he says that convincing intentions are key: “You have to persuade millions of people that you come from a place of good rather than a place of capitalism, so to speak.” Pepsi’s light touch didn’t really have anything to say other than “buy a Pepsi,” effectively serving no one but themselves.
It was such a cliché
The various characters that were cast were almost tick box, from the hipster haircuts, to the frustrated musician and artist themes. One of the most cringeworthy moments happened when a young woman in a veil, shown earlier as frustrated with her serious photography work, finds the perfect subject in overexposed celebrity 21-year-old Kendall Jenner. Hmm.
It cheapened some serious subjects
The last 12 months have been full of protest, none of it lightweight, fun and frothy. These have been moments that hurt – life or death in some cases – from the Black Lives Matter movements to the anti-Brexit marches and anti-Trump and Women’s protests. People are protesting because they have suffered loss, because they are scared, because they see a darker future emerging. The idea that it could all be solved by a young millionaire with a can of sugary drink was seen by many as patronising, cheap and mercenary.
It almost parodied important moments
You know the ones I’m thinking of here – a famous 1967 photo from a Vietnam War demonstration with a woman putting a flower in a gun barrel and the iconic image of Ieshia Evans who was arrested by police at a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2016. This was just too disrespectful for some.
Pepsi might get sued
The police officers in the advert were wearing badges that looked very much like those of the San Francisco Police Department. San Fran’s finest are now investigating a lawsuit against the drinks brand.
Too many memes
There were just too many opportunities to make jokes and memes – so, so many memes (you can see the best ones here).
So, in many ways the Pepsi ad did have it all – all the wrong things that is. A total lack of respect, a cheap attempt to hijack the zeitgeist for its own ends, laughable concept and offensive content produced a thoroughly memorable piece of advertising, if just for completely the wrong reasons.