Social media marketing fails – lessons from Pepsi

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Marketing teams latching onto social issues to sell their products is not a new phenomenon. Marketing teams failing to latch onto social issues to sell their products is also not a new phenomenon.


In an attempt to reach out to a socially aware, politically active millennial audience, Pepsi launched a poor attempt at social marketing that faced widespread backlash across the Internet, including the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr.


The two and a half minute video features model/reality star Kendall Jenner ditching her blonde wig and modelling job to lead a fun-filled protest which appears to be a mixture of Black Lives Matter, Women’s March, LGBTQI issues and every other minority issue that Pepsi could imagine.


Using a conventionally attractive, straight, affluent, Caucasian Kendall Jenner as the face of minority issues is an issue in itself.


However, Pepsi takes it a step further by making Kendall the saving grace of the protest by softening the barricade of law enforcement officers with a can of Pepsi. The imagery of this image echoes Ieshia Evans’ peaceful protest against police officers at Baton Rogue, however, in this situation, police dragged off Ieshia.


In all honesty, it isn’t particularly surprising that Pepsi got things so wrong, Kendall Jenner, a token woman wearing a hijab, an un-disclosed protest and easy to appease police officers were bound to be a recipe for disaster.


Fortunately for other brands, there are lessons to be learned from Pepsi’s attempt to be ‘woke’ that can prevent your business from facing similar backlash.


Lesson 1: Pick a cause

One of the most uncomfortable aspects of this commercial is the unknown protest – it’s as if Pepsi threw together a combination of diverse individuals and thought ‘yeah that should be good enough’. Minority issues or any social issues cannot be clumped together for the sake of convenience. Each issue is unique in its own way.


If you are planning a social marketing campaign choose one social issue, don’t combine global warming and sexism in an attempt to cover all your bases.


Lesson 2: Educate yourself

A resounding description of this campaign is ‘tone deaf’. A campaign that tried so hard to be hyper-aware was so incredibly unaware. Pepsi failed to capture or even nod to the brutality that minority protestors have faced in the past.

There is more to social marketing than utilising the issue itself, successful campaigns are educated in the issues they market. Not only understanding the issue itself but understanding the perspective and experiences of the individuals that these issues affect.


Lesson 3: Take responsibility 

Following the backlash, Pepsi attempted to explain themselves:

“This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey”


Upon realising that this statement did nothing to calm the brewing storm, Pepsi released a statement on their Twitter account, taking responsibility for their blunder.



The lesson here? Skip the first part and just take responsibility.



Social marketing is an excellent way to insert brand in an issue that your business is passionate about but it’s something that should be approached with upmost sensitivity and understanding.