Spitfire Strategies

Three Things Communicators Can Learn from Pepsi’s Failed Ad


This week, Pepsi released a protest-inspired ad featuring Kendall Jenner that went viral…but probably not in the way they had hoped. Following an outcry that the brand was exploiting and trivializing protests – from the civil rights era to today’s Black Lives Matter movement – Pepsi removed the ad and apologized to Jenner (not those offended) for the misstep. However, the damage was done.

During these tumultuous times, communicators and marketers are struggling to remain relevant while promoting their products and messaging. But, it’s a fine line to walk and not many are getting it right. Here’s how to make sure you do:

  • Identify a clear message. While it’s important to be timely, you don’t want to be seen as opportunistic. Are there real ways your brand can make a difference? What are they? Are you already doing them, or do you have a plan in place? That should be the starting point for your message.
  • Choose a credible messenger. The person or people who deliver your message should have some lived experience in the topic at hand. It may be tempting to go for the shinier, glossier option with the most followers, but if there’s little substance, your message will be lost among the deserved criticism you’ll receive.
  • Ask the right people the right questions. Who are your decision makers? Do they reflect the audiences you’re trying to reach? Involving people with lived experience helps you avoid being tone deaf and encourages creativity.

The current political climate offers an opportunity for communicators to connect with their audience on a deeper level by tapping into shared values, but it is vital for organizations to truly understand the conversation before inserting themselves into it.

“This is a truly transformative program and there is no question that it is preparing leaders to be courageous communicators.”

- Colleen Bailey, Executive Director, The National Steinbeck Center

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