Image of Kendall Jenner in Pepsi ad giving a can to policeman

Was The Pepsi Ad Trying To Do The Wrong Job?

Ads have a job to do!

How did Pepsi’s marketing team think the Kendall Jenner ad was going to work and why? Ads have a job to do, but what was the job for Pepsi?

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding.” – according to a brand statement.

The problem was in the execution as Coke had a similar idea with the “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” ad in 1971. However, Coke didn’t  pretend they could have a role in specific problems like apartheid in South Africa. The Pepsi ad trivialised important issues and mimicked imagery from a recent protest for social justice.

Image from 1971 Coke ad - "I'd like to teach the world to sing."
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Are in-house agencies prone to mistakes?

The ad was produced by Pepsi’s in-house agency, Creators League Studio. The studio is overseen by Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group; and Kristin Patrick, senior VP-global brand development.

Well, in-house creative agencies don’t have to be a recipe for disaster if there is proper oversight and diversity in teams. But what if you want to turn your in-house agency into a Hollywood  studio?  That’s exactly what Jakeman recently said in Ad Age.

“Our goal is to really behave like a Hollywood studio…..The holy grail for me is to leverage the incredible power of our brands and their equities to essentially fund their own marketing,” – Brad Jakeman

This might explain why the ad was all over the place rather than focusing on the job to be done. Kristin Patrick also believes this BS:

“For many, many years, we have been the people who have been renting the content from the networks and the studios. There’s an opportunity for us to become more ingrained in that profit pool,” –  Kristin Patrick

Image of protest from Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad
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Nope, still don’t get it and where does it mention anything about understanding your target audience? Are they confusing product placement in movies with producing ads?

They also have this obsession with millennials even though most research shows that age is a poor indicator of attitudes and preferences.

Image of Tweet quoting Kristin Patrick

What are ads for?

As advertising man Dave Trott points out what is important about an ad is not whether you like it or not, but does the ad work and why. Jakeman and Patrick seem to  have confused this objective by trying to position their creative studio as an income generating Hollywood studio.

Dave Trott estimates that £18.3 billion a year is spent on all forms of marketing. But only 4% of that is remembered positively, 7% is remembered negatively and 89% is neither noticed or remembered.

Pepsi have lost sight of this and should be concerned about getting their ads noticed rather then comparing themselves with a Hollywood studio . Ads can be entertaining, but that doesn’t mean they need to have a plot like a movie. The Pepsi ad is a great example of advertisers taking themselves far too seriously.

Image from Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad with people dancing
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Group think?

The real danger with all this BS is that you start to believe your own PR and no one in the team is going to want to stand out and shout “the emperor has no clothes on”.  When you get a small team of like-minded people  and the culture is over-respectful of the people in charge you have a high chance of  groupthink.

When all think alike, then no one is thinking - Walter Lippman - The danger of groupthink

 

Diversity and independent thinking?

Pepsi have a strong reputation for promoting gender equality, but this is only one aspect of diversity. For instance James Surowiecki argues that  cognitive diversity is also critical to good decision making as it expands a group’s set of possible alternatives and it helps the group to mentally visualise problems in novel ways.

“Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.”  – James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

Large corporations like Pepsi though love to rely on recruiting the brightest minds and people from top universities. This just ensures you get people from similar backgrounds which leads to homogenous groups.

“Suggesting that the organisation with the smartest people may not be the best organisation is heretical, particularly in a business world caught up in a ceaseless “war for talent” and governed by the assumption that a few superstars can make the difference between an excellent and a mediocre company. Heretical or not, it’s the truth, the value of expertise is, in many contexts, overrated.” – James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

Do HR need to review recruitment practices?

So, maybe HR departments also need to think about what their practices are doing to large corporations. Maybe it’s not all about the most talented after all?

What about digital marketing?

 

Digital content also has a job to do. Keep it simple and have a single objective. Don’t fall into the trap of over-complicating content or setting more than one objective. If your content goes viral, great, but don’t rely on it.

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  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.