There has been a lot of discussion lately about a certain Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner. In some agency room somewhere, an idea was born and went through all of the expense and effort of concepting, scripting, storyboarding, casting, shooting, editing, and finally airing – only to be castrated by the public.
I’ve spent my professional life involved in various aspects of marketing, communications, advertising, and promotion. I’ve experienced how an idea that seems so great can…. well, in the words of the Pepsi Execs, miss the mark.
I will admit that when I watched this particular spot, my first reaction was: Wait. Whut? I just didn’t get it. There were just so many questions in my mind – why was the musician sad? Why was the photographer frustrated? How many more “culturally appropriate” people could they cast in one spot? But why is it a beautiful white model and a handsome white cop who somehow save the day with a Pepsi? I don’t need to continue to dissect the ad, I’m sure you’ve already heard enough about it, and likely viewed it yourself before it got yanked off the air.
As much as I think perhaps the media has had a field day with this failed spot, I did have three primary thoughts after hearing the reactions to it. One, that was a whole lot of ad budget money down the drain. Two, thank goodness we have this fluff to focus on to give us a break from scary world events, and Three, how cool is it that we consumers are so in tune with what feels right, and what doesn’t?
There have been a whole lot of bad ads in the history of consumer persuasion. Yet I think in years past, perhaps we didn’t realize they were bad – at least they rarely garnered the level of immediate response that we experience today. Maybe that is because we women, who are the primary purchasing decision makers in most categories, now aren’t afraid to let the world know what we think, what we like, and what is cool and what’s not. There were a few really, really degrading ads in the old days that got the National Organization of Women (NOW) in an uproar, but for the most part we didn’t recognize when things “missed the mark.” Or, perhaps it is because in decades past, the majority of creative agencies were made up of men, so bad ads were just only worth a sigh and an eye roll.
There are a few memorable pieces from my youth that when I look back now, I just think “yikes”. I’ll bet Kendall would feel better if she saw any of these:
Clairol offered a variety of appliances to “turn her on.” Nope, nothing gross about that.
Ah, and good ol’ Madge. Giving women mani’s by soaking their unsuspecting hands in dish soap. Because, you know, we spend so many hours stuck home doing dishes, we should be thankful that the soap won’t dry out our hands.
This one shows how we used to think it was cute to let our children burn to a crisp in the sun. Oh, don’t worry, it will just turn in to a nifty tan. Skin cancer? What’s that?
And speaking of cancer, this one in particular kills me. Blow smoke in her face and she will follow you anywhere? This one is bad in so many ways. How about blow smoke in her face and get slapped in your face in return? Or blow smoke in her face and take years off her life? Oh, so very bad.
As for TV spots, there were plenty of awful attempts there too. Like pretty much any feminine product spot in the 80’s… anyone remember “fresh as a gentle breeze”? Yeah, right.
So yes, Pepsi failed to put their best foot forward on their most recent effort. Perhaps they were a bit tone deaf to current sensitivities and world events, or were not prepared for how discerning today’s predominantly female consumers can be. But they weren’t the first to make a bad ad choice, and won’t be the last.
That’s ok. We enjoy making fun of them, and wondering about the agency brainiacs who came up with the concepts. I’ve been on both sides of that fence. We are human after all, and not perfect.
There is one tradition from the old agency days that I think might be worth bringing back….. How creative might we all be with a Margarita Bar in our offices?