A quick letter to Pepsi: Act like a human
I’m not going to rip apart Pepsi’s now-pulled advertisement. You know, the one that shook the nation with a jolt of “WTF?” That’s been covered plenty in the aftermath. As with most tragedies it’s important to glean as much knowledge and wisdom as possible so the event isn’t all for naught.
The spot has been deemed “tone-deaf” and “insensitive” by many pundits out there. For a lot of agency creatives, there’s a tinge of redemption as this content was created in-house at Pepsi. Most of us agree that, although the production value was fantastic, the message and story were so obtuse that it was barely watchable. How did Pepsi get it so wrong?
Pepsi’s not alone in believing in a prevailing myth thought throughout the brand world: You can buy your way into a lifestyle.
Owning and living a lifestyle isn’t a matter of budget. It’s a matter of purpose. More specifically, it’s about having a passionate purpose, and actually living it every day, with everything you do. Politically charged, yet safely evasive scenes aside, the soda giant hasn’t fostered enough equity in the many “safe” stories they tried to portray in the advertisement.
We see music, photography, fashion, but what’s Pepsi done to uplift the underserved in those arts? Couple those stories with protests, racism, politics, and a culture that’s volatile at best and you have a recipe for disaster. It leaves the viewer thinking, “What the F$%^ does Pepsi have to do with anything of this? What do these conflicting elements have to do with each other?” and, more specifically, “Do they really think their product is the key to stamping out racism and political divide?”
Too often brands try to use their wallets to force themselves into areas of life that seem to be teaming with active and engaged “consumers.” This stems from viewing humans as “target audiences” instead of people, with dynamic, complex thoughts and emotions. Brands need to realize a few things:
They need to realize that their products and services have direct correlations to a human’s personality and persona.
They need to realize that it takes thinking beyond their bottom line and their products and services to personify a lifestyle.
They need to realize that some topics and situations aren’t appropriate for their commentary and exploitation.
In short, stop exploiting and start acting like a human being. Humans have a personality. They befriend like-minded humans. They make enemies. They create trust. They help people. And, most importantly, they have a conscience that guides their decisions.
Maybe ask yourself, what does fizzy sugar water have to do with the racial and political climate of today? And, will adding a pop culture icon — who’s built no value to the world beyond crippling vanity and gossip — make things any better at all?
Your friend, Joseph, Principal of Vigor, a beverage and restaurant branding firm