In 2017, Pepsi aired an advertisement featuring the celebrity endorser Kendall Jenner. Tapping into the zeitgeist of political confrontation and street protests, the ad featured marchers holding up placards with generic statements, like ‘join the conversation’, and a line of police officers in everyday uniform. Enter Kendall Jenner, who walks through the protest and offers an ice-cold Pepsi to a policeman. Not surprisingly, the ad was strongly criticized. It not only belittled the very real protests around such issues as Black Lives Matter, but its execution also looked vapid and inauthentic. Initially, Pepsi tried to defend what it had done, but within a day, social media pressure led to the ad’s withdrawal. What did Pepsi do wrong?
Co-opting protests and causes isn’t necessarily bad. Brands can be activists for change. And consumers can empathize with brands that take a stance, even when there is a clear commercial benefit to be gained. However, what we have discovered from our research into consumer attitudes is that people have a nose for inauthenticity. They can smell out when a brand lacks integrity and they can also tell when a brand does have a real commitment to a purpose. The brands that get the plaudits are those with clarity of purposes, such as Patagonia or Lush. They show the consistency of thought and action over time, born out of their beliefs and a closeness to customers. Pepsi’s misstep was rooted in the idea that it could take a cultural issue and simply...
Professor of Brand Management at Kristiania University College in Oslo. He is the author of twelve books and the co-editor of Brands with a Conscience.
Professor of Marketing and commonly publishes in scientific journals. Together with Nicholas Ind, he wrote the book ‘Co-Creating Brands’ which will be published by Bloomsbury early 2020