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  • Writer's pictureMegan O'Brien

Pepsi's Biggest Marketing Mistake

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Back in 2017, Pepsi partnered with supermodel and Kar-Jenner, Kendall Jenner, to create a marketing campaign which quickly crumbled both Pepsi and Kendall's reputations. The campaign was intended to display harmony and unity and instead became one of the most controversial and widely criticised marketing campaigns of the year. This ended up being Pepsi's biggest marketing mistake.

The Pepsi Ad That Went Viral for All the Wrong Reasons

The ad, which was titled "Live for Now," portrayed Kendall Jenner leaving a glamorous photoshoot to join a protest. In the ad, Jenner hands a police officer a can of Pepsi, seemingly resolving the tension between the protesters and law enforcement, leading to cheers and applause from the crowd. The message was clear: Pepsi wanted to portray itself as a brand that brought people together, even in the face of social unrest.

Why It Was Such a Big Marketing Mistake

Tone-deaf and Insensitive Imagery

One of the most significant reasons the campaign failed was its tone-deaf and insensitive portrayal of real-world issues. The ad oversimplified the complex problems faced by marginalised communities. It was widely criticised for making light of the serious issues of police brutality and racial injustice.

Appropriation of Activism

Pepsi's attempt to co-opt and commercialise social activism was seen as opportunistic and insincere. The ad gave the impression that these deeply rooted issues could be solved with a can of drink. It seemed to exploit political movement for commercial gain, further damaging the brand's credibility.

The result of the Campaign

The fallout from the campaign was substantial. Pepsi faced backlash from consumers, activists, and even celebrities. The brand's reputation took a significant hit, and it had to issue an apology. Ultimately, the ad did more harm than good, tarnishing Pepsi and Kendall Jenner's image.

The ad faced an immediate and overwhelmingly negative response on social media. Many people criticised the campaign, causing a viral backlash. The ad was widely mocked, and Pepsi had to withdraw it within days of its release.

Lessons to Be Learned

The Pepsi and Kendall Jenner marketing campaign serves as a valuable case study of what not to do in advertising. It highlights the importance of:

  • Understanding social and political context when crafting a marketing message

  • Avoiding the appropriation of activism for commercial gain

  • Ensuring that the messaging is sensitive and respectful of real-world issues

  • Listening to public feedback and being ready to respond and adapt when necessary

The Kendall Jenner and Pepsi marketing campaign will forever be remembered as one of the most significant marketing failures. It serves as a stark reminder that brands must approach sensitive issues with care and responsibility.While it may not be possible to predict every response to a marketing campaign, respecting the authenticity of social movements is a crucial step in building and maintaining brand credibility. 

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