Category Archives: Advertising

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, and 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  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 You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

Is Digital Marketing A Zero-Sum Game?


I recently read an inspiring book, Predatory Thinking, by Dave Trott.  It’s a highly readable and engaging book full of brilliant anecdotes and short stories. It made me reflect on life and work. For me it has some great insights that are very salient to both digital marketing and website optimization.

Marketing is a zero-sum game, you can’t win new customers unless you take them away from someone else. This means your content and proposition needs to be compelling, and persuasive, as otherwise your visitors may well sign up or purchase from another website. It may seem obvious but you only need to look at a selection of websites and many don’t communicate clearly what makes them unique from their competitors. Many copy the standard template of carousel and product images without much thought to include persuasive content. Design is a framework to build and structure content, but it is content that engages and persuades.

“Because marketing, like war, is a zero-sum game. If you want something you have to take it from someone else.”
Dave Trott, Predatory Thinking

But that doesn’t mean continually adding new elements to your website or proposition. You can’t have everything at once. When you add something you also need to consider taking something away as otherwise you are in danger of ending up diluting your value proposition and confusing visitors. Testing different messages on separate landing pages can assist this process as it helps maintain a single-minded proposition.

Digital marketers spend a lot of time trying to formulate the right messages for their landing pages. However, as Dave Trott reminds us ordinary people:

  • Don’t notice stuff
  • Are only interested in one thing at a time
  • Are conditioned to filter out distractions (e.g. banners)
  • And will probably do the opposite of what you want them to do.

The insight here is that first and foremost we need to think about “how do we even get noticed”. We need to workout how to get the visitor’s attention and not bombard them with multiple messages or distracting graphics that don’t nudge them towards our goal. Look at your bounce rates and time spent on pages to see if you are being noticed.

“£18.3 billion is spent yearly in the UK on all forms of advertising. 4% remembered positively, 7% remembered negatively, 89% not noticed or remembered”.
Dave Trott, Predatory Thinking

“What’s in it for them?” Marketing is about getting peopleto do something that we want them to do. This means that content needs to be persuasive and not just communicate what we want to tell visitors. Further, people are not rational agents and so are far more likely to respond to a message that engages their imagination than focusses on rational reasons.

Don’t assume our visitors know what we know. As experienced
digital marketers we understand the websites and brands we work on much more than the average user. It’s important to take a step back and accept we won’t see our website like a customer. We know how to navigate to the account page to change privacy settings, but a first visitor may not know it exists. Maybe they don’t even care.

“We can’t believe the world isn’t exactly the same way for
everyone else, as it is for us.” Dave Trott, Predatory Thinking

You need to get closer to your visitor’s view of the world by observing how they behave and listening to what they say about your website and brand. Find out why they came to your site and what tasks they were looking to complete. But also what may have prevented them from completing their task and what frustrations they have about their experience. There are so many tools on the market to obtain customer feedback there is no excuse for not capturing visitor opinions.

The role of advertising:

Advertising has the potential to give you an edge over your
competitors, but it can’t turn a core non-user into a core user. A person has to be in the market for your product in the first place to have the potential to convert. Similarly if your landing page or advert can grab their attention you have the potential to influence visitors.

However, the best you can hope for is to create a propensity to convert. Most of our visitors won’t convert because we don’t tick all their requirements at this point in time. Some may return to our site if they remember us or if something grabs their attention that
makes them believe we can help them achieve a current goal.

The key implication from the book for website optimization
is that you need a compelling, single-minded value proposition that is communicated using simple and imaginative messages. A useful framework for evaluating your website is the Wider Funnel’s Lift
Model. This demonstrates visually how you can’t rely on reducing distractions, anxiety and creating urgency etc, if you don’t have a strong value proposition. Your brand simply won’t get off the ground.

image of Widerfunnel Lift Model of website optimization

 Recommended Reading:

By Dave Trott – Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass in Out-Thinking the Competition

Related posts: 

Website optimisation toolbox – Over 30 categories of tools for increasing your conversion rate.

How should you prioritise your A/B testing ideas? – A framework for evaluating your A/B testing ideas.

Which A/B testing tool should you choose? – Considers the criteria for selecting an A/B testing tool and looks at a survey of user rating for 9 of the most popular tools.

You can access links to all my posts on my index page.

The Lift model framework from Wider Funnel

Thank you for reading my post and if you have time please browse my other articles.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  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 You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.