Making a social or political statement that can be perceived as entirely unambiguous and positive by the target demographic is a difficult but not impossible task. However, due to the increase in the sociopolitical tensions within the American society and the rise in social pressure regarding the issue of race and ethnicity, companies of vast influence need to be especially cautious with their public image. Fuelled by the social concerns mentioned above, a heated discussion of the public relation (PR) step that was taken wrong may kill a potentially lucrative idea in its conception.
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The specified threat has recently been illustrated quite well by PepsiCo’s disastrous commercial. Kendall Jenner’s PepsiCo Commercial was supposed to address the “Black Lives Matter” movement (De par. 2), yet it stooped to parody levels rather fast due to the lack of concern for the plight of the vulnerable demographic.
While the commercial itself can be described as lackluster and lacking emotional weight, it is not the blandness of the video that makes it offensive. PepsiCo has chosen an important social issue as the platform for the further enhancement of its brand integrity, which is not offensive by itself. What makes the video and the campaign in general so unbearable is the attempt at capitalizing on the issue of discrimination and the fight for human rights without any regard for the plight of the vulnerable population. Therefore, it is critical for PepsiCo to take a stand on the issue and introduce a new PR campaign that will limit the negative effect of the Kendal Jenner PepsiCo Commercial.
The campaign was supposed to convey the message of peace and position PepsiCo as the force that brings the community together, which, as a draft, sounded rather innocent, albeit slightly silly. However, at some point in the production process, the element of social importance was added to the campaign, entitling it to champion the cause of unity and the concepts of multiculturalism and plurality. While the goal was admittedly noble, the execution thereof was the reason for the commercial to fail. According to the initial idea, the advertisement was supposed to feature a woman approaching the guard and giving one of the police officers a PepsiCo (Batchelor par. 1). After opening and tasting the drink, the police officer would smile, and the commercial would end in a mass triumph.
The campaign was expected to attract the attention of new audiences, simultaneously reinforcing the connection to the old ones. Particularly, it was assumed that the commercial was made in good faith and that it could be seen as anything but support for the African American population and its plight. However, the lack of thought that went into the production of the commercial has affected the idea, its implementation, and the overall perception of the advertisement.
Reasons for Failure
Unfortunately, what might have seemed like a harmless homage to the key events of the Black Lives Matter movement turned out to be an awkward attempt at reliving the glory of the movement and capitalizing on African American people’s struggle. PepsiCo was not smart enough to choose an African American actress to represent the driving force behind the ceasefire and the management of the conflict between the movement participants and the police. However, which is even more insulting, the commercial took a very powerful moment that was witnessed during the Baton Rouge Protest and turned it into a ploy of selling soda.
The fact that the most cathartic element of the commercial poorly alludes to a real-life event occurring and resolving much more dramatically than the commercial suggests does not help in making PepsiCo look good or, at the very least, considerate. Instead, it becomes evident that the company sought to capitalize on the movement to which it does not belong and the culture that it decided to appropriate. Despite the lack of evidence proving that the company has done research on the subject matter, the commercial does not appear to be either considerate or conscious about the movement to which it was referring.
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The specified characteristics would not have been so bad if the commercial itself was not driven the attention of the audience to the Black Lives Matter movement and the poor job that it has done by reflecting it. Particularly, the problem of cultural appropriation should be seen as another factor that has made the campaign so infamous (Yang 153). By taking a significant element of the African American culture and placing an actress of a different cultural background at the forefront of the commercial, PepsiCo has unintentionally attempted to deprive the movement of its intrinsic meaning.
PepsiCo’s Further Actions
In retrospect, there were very few tools that could have made the commercial at the very least functional in the context of modern social activism and sociopolitical movements. Kendall Jenner’s PepsiCo Commercial has already had a vastly negative effect on the company’s brand and its perception among the U.S. population. Furthermore, the project has affected the people involved in it directly. For instance, Kendal Jenner’s star is unlikely to recover from this in the nearest future despite the actress’s attempts to justify her choice. Kendall claimed that she was not fully aware of the actual content of the commercial and was simply far too overwhelmed by the prospects of being hired by a famous organization:
Michael Jackson has done it, Britney Spears has done it, Beyonce, Pink—the list goes on. To get something like that was so exciting. I trusted everyone. I trusted the teams. After I saw the reaction and read what people had to say about it, I most definitely saw what went wrong. I was so stuck, and I really didn’t know what to do, so I completely shut down. (McCarthy par. 7)
However, people are unlikely to forgive PepsiCo Kendall’s participation in what turned out to be the travesty of the famous Baton Rouge Protest photo. During the commercial, Kendall’s character stops the attempt of the squad to restrain protesters by approaching them and handing one of the squad members a can of PepsiCo. The scene alluded to the famous Baton Rouge Protest scene when an unarmed African American woman wearing a dress approached the police in an attempt to reason with them (Cooper par. 2).
Kendall’s act bears enough resemblance to the Baton Rouge scene to be considered a reference yet does an extremely poor job at recreating its emotional power. Instead, with its cheap product placement, the commercial seems like a travesty of the iconic event.
With the specified information in mind, it will be reasonable for PepsiCo to make an official statement in which the organization will explain itself. At present, it is critical for the company’s PR to ensure that it did not have any harmful intentions and that the organization will do everything possible to address the specified unfortunate situation. Indeed, since the commercial has become instantly infamous and has reached the level of parody quite quickly, it would be best for PepsiCo to recognize the mistake and move on (Richardson and Hinton 130). From the PR perspective, the specified decision would also point to the fact that the organization is represented by mature people who treat its target audience like intelligent people.
Unfortunately, PepsiCo has done none of the steps mentioned above so far. While the cast of the commercial, particularly the lead actress, had to come up with public statements regarding their being oblivious to the problem up until it emerged, PepsiCo has only issued a brief apology stating that it was “trying to project a global a message of unity, peace, and understanding” (Batchelor par. 2).
It could be argued that, by refusing to provide a response or a commentary to the unfortunate commercial, the organization is attempting to silence the problem and avoiding repercussions. Indeed, at present, it looks like PepsiCo is trying to minimize the damage by sweeping the unfortunate commercial under the rug. However, the chosen technique evidently fails to work since the company has affected a very vulnerable community and has made a travesty of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has impacted the modern community extensively (Schultz et al. 345). Therefore, the global audience is not going to forget PepsiCo its failure, thus reinforcing the negative effects of the campaign and making the firm’s PR-related situation even direr.
Thus, it is strongly recommended from PepsiCo come up with a public statement regarding the subject matter and admit that mistakes were made. While the proposed step might seem like the assassination of the company’s career and image in the public eye, it, in fact, will help build more respect for the firm. At present, it is not only the mistake made by PepsiCo that makes PepsiCo’s choices problematic but also the unwillingness to provide a public statement regarding the issue. As soon as the organization decides to be honest with its customers about its decisions, buyers will be able to regain their trust in PepsiCo.
Thus, the company should currently consider the PR campaign that will prove its good intentions (Richardson and Hinton 129). While PepsiCo should admit its mistakes, it needs to point out that it was acting in good faith, yet with the lack of research regarding the subject matter.
The recent PepsiCo Commercial involving Kendal Jenner should be seen as a PR failure not because it attempts at using a recent social concern as the platform for promoting its brand but because it does so very blatantly and with no regard for the cause of the movement to which it alludes. The company managed to singlehandedly bring its ratings among general audiences to the bottom due to the lack of concern with which it tackled the problem of social and racial tensions in the United States. As a result, what was initially believed to be a supportive statement with a tint of product placement in it resulted in a gigantic embarrassment and shameless pursuit of easy profit.
While the current approach that PepsiCo uses to manage the problem can be seen as understandable, silencing the issue in the hopes that people will eventually forget about the resonance that it made would be a wrong step to take.
Since even the participants of the commercial, particularly Jenner, are trying to distance themselves from the advertisement and the organization, in general, it will be necessary to conduct another PR campaign that will cement the image of PepsiCo as a well-meaning company. Thus, apart from a public statement addressing the situation, PepsiCo will have to conduct another PR campaign that will incorporate smarter statements concerning the current sociopolitical situation.
Batchelor, Tom. “Pepsi Advert with Kendall Jenner Pulled after Huge Backlash.” Independent, 5 Apr. 2017. Web.
Cooper, Chasity S. “Baton Rouge Protest Photo of Woman Wearing Dress and Facing Off With Police Goes Viral.” TeenVogue. 2016. Web.
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De, Elizabeth. “Why People Are Not Happy About Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Commercial.” TeenVogue. 2017. Web.
McCarthy, Lauren. “Kendall Jenner Finally Speaks Out About Pepsi Commercial Controversy: ‘I Completely Shut Down.’” magazine. 2017. Web.
Richardson, Kathy B., and Marcie Hinton. Applied Public Relations: Cases in Stakeholder Management. 3rd ed., Routledge, 2015.
Schultz, Don E., et al. Building Customer-Brand Relationships. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2015.
Yang, Jing. “Cross‐Cultural Appropriation of Hollywood Romance in Beijing Meets Seattle.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 51, no. 1, 2018, pp. 152-174.