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Pepsi + Kendall Jenner = Advertising Fail

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If you ever find yourself wondering what it looks like when an ad campaign spectacularly fails, I present to you today’s exhibit A: the latest Pepsi ad starring Kendall Jenner.

This is a big budget production featuring a big-name star promoting cultural inclusion and community. Featuring cool, beautiful people who just want to be free and awesome and part of something bigger, the amazing Pepsi product is featured bridging the divide – reminding us that the stern police, thanks to Pepsi, are humans, too.

Now, to be fair, Pepsi and their agency no doubt felt they had precedent on their side. I mean, there were numerous ads celebrating diversity and inclusive from really big names – like the one Budweiser did celebrating immigrants:

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Or AirBnb’s spot about inclusiveness:

click to view

And yet those other ads were celebrated and Pepsi’s has been savaged. What’s the difference? 

  1. This just feels blatantly opportunistic. Regardless of what Pepsi may have been hoping to communicate, the fact that Kendall Jenner is the ‘star’ of the spot simply throws all authenticity out the window. It feels simultaneously like a commercial to reinforce Kendall’s liberal chops (on the one hand) and a pathetic attempt to trade on an internet celebrity’s fame for views (on the other). Neither is helpful for a spot that’s supposed to be showing authenticity. 
  2. It comes off as trying too hard to be relevant; and despite their best efforts, it just comes off as manufactured. Look, some of it is surely that the commercial just isn’t very good. But a whole lot of it is about timing. The brands who were taking a stand on values did that already when they actually took a risk by taking a stand on their values. By waiting until now, for whatever reason, this commercial just feels like a cynical play on millennial desires for inclusiveness. Undermining Pepsi’s hopes and dreams for the spot.
  3. It’s a callously shallow take on bridging the divide. Why? Because crossing a divide – bridging a gap and bringing people together – involves some amount of emotional risk. In this instance, for example, there would have had to be a price to be paid by Kendall for crossing the divide to give the cop a Pepsi. Risk to her fame. Risk to her success. Risk to her likability. But, of course, there was no risk to her. Or to anyone. Because the commercial isn’t about risk at all (see above). Which is why the commercial looks less like a celebration of divide-crossing and more like a shallow vision of us (the beautiful, diverse millennials) vs them (the pathetic, boring non-millennials) with neither side looking very good.

What’s the takeaway from all this? Surely some will think its proof that Pepsi is out of touch with the zeitgeist. (which it may be). Others will blame their agency as proof of all the ills of the agency business (of which there are many). But me? I think it’s a reminder that good advertising is just really hard. This is a major brand with experienced people at the helm and yet they still approved this spot despite its weaknesses. Pepsi’s agencies are staffed with great creatives with amazing reels who still let this out of the editing suite. Bottom line, no matter what anyone may try to sell you otherwise, there are no rule books for success. Smart, talented, experienced people can miss the ball by a mile. And, as a result, failure is a lot easier than anyone wants to admit.

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