• Marketing 101: Don’t Be Like Pepsi

    The reality is that anyone can make a mistake. Unfortunately, in this day and age, everyone knows your mistakes. In a constantly evolving digital age, even industry titans are making huge mistakes that we all can learn from. While Pepsi is the most recent global brand to succumb to a marketing snafu, they aren’t the first and they won’t be the last. In this article, we’ll explore five quick tips on how to avoid marketing mistakes that can result in global backlash.


    1. Bad Context + Bad Characters = (Bad) Publicity

    Despite what you have been told, all publicity is not good publicity. We have limited “characters,” so let’s not skirt the issue. Pepsi couldn’t have used a more controversial celebrity family matched with a more sensitive topic.

    A sip of controversy never hurt anyone–but a “can” can cause some serious damage. That is why understanding how your storyline and A-list celebrity appearances are viewed by your audience is critical. Kendall Jenner in a normal Pepsi ad; no real harm done. Matching Kendall with the modern day civil rights movement, fail. You can have controversy, but it must be calculated and measured.


    2. Diversity is Critical to Understanding Your Target Audience

    Anyone who watches the news knows that: 1) millennials have adopted a culture of social justice; 2) the racial climate in America is extremely tense. Pepsi’s decision to parody that culture and climate tells me that there are little to no minorities or millennials with decision making power at Pepsi. No self-respecting minority or millennial with the power to prevent this travesty would have allowed it because they understand its painful impact on their communities. Equal representation in these positions is critical to communicating with minorities and millennial without insulting them. Why? Because millennials and minorities, especially African-Americans, are the nation’s LARGEST consumers. Any company that consistently marginalizes these groups, especially in a public way, can expect to feel the consequences in its bottom line.


    3. Messaging Is EVERYTHING

    In Germany, no company would pair images of Hitler or swastikas with images of the Jewish community to make a statement. The topic is sensitive, regardless of the fact that the Holocaust began almost 80 years ago. Fast forward to today. Black Lives Matter is happening RIGHT NOW, so how much more sensitive is that issue to minorities? Every company should understand that to approach social issues is treading dangerous PR waters, no matter what side of an issue you may agree with. It’s par for the course. As such, there has to be greater deliberation about the message that is being conveyed before an ad is released to the public.  By using a false representation of the present civil rights climate, Pepsi not only made light of it, but also communicated that they have no regard for minorities besides appropriating their struggles to boost sales. That’s a lasting impression that can cause permanent harm to profit margins.


    4. “How You Wanna Clique Up After Your Mistakes?”

    Drake summed it up perfectly. “I don’t trust a word you say.” Without question, Pepsi should have issued a specific apology and addressed the matter at hand. Skirting around the issue and choosing to focus on Jenner was “fake love,” and only added insult to injury. In every instance of offending a customer, ESPECIALLY customers that contribute significantly to your revenue, you should offer a direct apology and/or specific act of restitution. Even a household name like Pepsi can deteriorate if it alienates its primary customer base. Don’t believe me? Ask Uber. Many consumers still refuse to use the app because of its antagonistic behavior, long after the travel ban disappeared from the news.


    5. Stay In Your Lane

    In the wake of such a progressive and evolving marketplace, we are often intimidated by the competition. However, it is important to focus on what you do well. Pepsi allowed the fad of influencer marketing to lead them to a path of destruction. It was the equivalent of attempting to use ebonics to sound “hip” or show solidarity. The result is always the same: massive backlash. Know what you do well, own it, and figure out how it applies to your target audience. You’ll be much more effective in getting your point across, and you’ll avoid looking culturally insensitive and oblivious.

    About Corey Briscoe

    Corey Briscoe is a thought leader who transcends industries. Briscoe is the Managing Partner for Internal Operations and Talent Acquisition. He oversees daily operations and human capital strategy. Known as “the company culture guy,” Briscoe specializes in molding leaders and uniting people around common goals.  His ability to drive strategic agendas has privileged him to work with leaders across various sectors. 

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  • Alison Telesford says:Reply
    April 11, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Love the piece the advice is forthright and on point. Especially the know your market, what worked for you and how to capitalize on that to still capture your new audience…(How about staying true to brand). I could say more but kudos to an excellent written critique and sound advice.