By now, most people have heard about the Pepsi protest flop. If not, the simple synopsis is that Pepsi’s in-house agency attempted to appropriate the youth protest movement to sell more of their yummy soda with a two-minute commercial. It ran for one day and Pepsi has been running from the fallout since then.
The Pepsi spot was truly a sugarcoated (perhaps a subliminal product tie-in?) look at non-specific issues that brought beautiful and carefully curated multi-cultural protestors to the street for a street party, oops, I mean to make the world a better and tastier place.
Did I mention the cut away shots to dancers pop and locking and hipsters playing classical instruments? The only thing missing to make real social change was an attractive celebrity and a product placement.
Fortunately, Kendall Jenner, Pepsi and the in-house Pepsi creative team rode to the rescue and made everything all right by sharing a Pepsi with the mean police, who then became nice and very photographic police.
Even typing the above makes me wonder how a spot like this can get made. It sounds more like a Saturday Night Live skit. For a company that has historically positioned itself as the young person’s “Coke” of choice, the missteps are epic.
Many people in our industry point to the challenge in-house agencies have being objective. By being a direct employee of a corporation, it is certainly understandable that your perspective may be adulterated by the company’s culture.
It is also not a stretch that the desire to retain your in-house job may make you hesitant to question creative decisions that come down the chain of command. “Let’s make this protest fun and perky; kids like fun and perky!”
Advertising agencies typically handle multiple clients at the same time, this hopefully allows them to avoid getting tunnel vision and creating commercials and communications that are really just a client talking to themselves and losing touch with their real audience: their customers.
Most agencies also understand that creative work is their most important product.
This usually leads to focusing more on the quality and appropriateness of the message for the intended audience. Some in-house agencies may be more concerned about the VP in the corner office than the people who buy their product.
Marketing mistakes happen all the time, some small and some, like Pepsi’s, that alienate the very people they were attempting to build brand loyalty with. The real lesson here is if one loses the ability to see the message through the eyes of the target audience, you may be setting your company up for failure.