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Why was Pepsi's Kendall Jenner ad a marketing disaster?

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

The Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad, which was released in April 2017, was widely regarded as a marketing disaster due to a combination of factors. The ad depicted Kendall Jenner leaving a modelling shoot to join a protest, and she resolves the tension between the protesters and the police by offering a can of Pepsi to one of the officers.

Before deep diving into understanding the reasons, let's understand what are marketing blunders and what causes them

A marketing blunder refers to a significant mistake or error in judgment made during the planning, execution, or communication of a marketing campaign or strategy. It can result in negative consequences, such as damage to a brand's reputation, loss of customers, or financial losses. Marketing blunders can happen due to various reasons, including:

1. Insufficient research and understanding: Lack of thorough research or a failure to understand the target audience, market dynamics, cultural nuances, or trends can lead to misalignment between the marketing efforts and the intended audience. This can result in ineffective messaging or inappropriate campaigns.

2. Poor communication or messaging: Inadequate communication or messaging that is unclear, confusing, or contradictory can cause misunderstandings, create negative perceptions, or alienate the target audience. This can occur through advertisements, social media posts, press releases, or other communication channels.

3. Insensitive or offensive content: Insensitivity or offensiveness in marketing content is a common cause of blunders. This can happen when a brand fails to recognize or respect cultural, social, or political sensitivities, leading to campaigns that are deemed offensive, inappropriate, or tone-deaf.

4. Lack of authenticity: Consumers value authenticity and genuine connections with brands. If marketing efforts come across as inauthentic, forced, or insincere, it can backfire and erode trust. This can happen when brands engage in opportunistic or insincere practices, exaggerate claims, or engage in misleading advertising.

5. Failure to adapt to changing circumstances: Market conditions, consumer preferences, and societal norms are constantly evolving. Failing to adapt marketing strategies to these changes can result in campaigns that feel outdated, out of touch, or irrelevant. Keeping a finger on the pulse of your target audience and staying agile is crucial.

6. Inadequate testing or quality control: Insufficient testing or quality control measures can lead to marketing materials with errors, technical glitches, or other issues that reflect poorly on the brand. This can include typos, broken links, misleading information, or design flaws that undermine the effectiveness of the campaign.

7. Poor timing or context: Marketing blunders can occur when a campaign is launched at an inappropriate time or in a misguided context. This can include insensitive promotions during times of tragedy or social unrest, or campaigns that clash with major cultural or religious events.

Marketing blunders are often a result of a combination of factors, including oversight, misjudgment, inadequate research, or a lack of understanding. It highlights the importance of careful planning, market research, audience analysis, cultural sensitivity, and continuous evaluation and adaptation to avoid such pitfalls.

Why did Pepsi's Kendall Jenner ad receive backlash?

Source: Harper's Bazaar

Now we have understood what are marketing blunders and what causes them, let's see why some reasons why Pepsi's Kendall Jenner ad received significant backlash:

1. Insensitivity to social and political issues: The ad was criticized for trivializing and co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice protests. It was seen as a tone-deaf attempt to commercialize and profit from serious social issues, reducing them to a simple act of sharing a soft drink.

2. Lack of authenticity: Many viewers found the ad to be inauthentic and pandering. It seemed to present a simplified and idealistic view of social activism, suggesting that all problems can be easily solved with a can of Pepsi. This shallow portrayal was seen as disconnected from the realities of social justice movements.

3. Cultural appropriation: The ad was accused of appropriating the imagery and symbolism of protest movements without truly understanding or respecting their significance. Critics argued that it attempted to sanitize and commodify the struggle for social change.

4. Failure to understand the target audience: The ad seemed to misunderstand the sentiments and concerns of its intended audience. Instead of resonating with viewers, it sparked widespread backlash and mockery.

5. Poor execution: The ad's creative execution and storytelling were deemed ineffective and poorly thought out. The portrayal of Kendall Jenner as a peacemaker and the choice to use a simple act of offering a Pepsi as a resolution to complex social issues were heavily criticized.

The combination of these factors led to widespread public condemnation, with many accusing Pepsi of trivializing important social justice movements and using them for profit. As a result, the ad was swiftly pulled and Pepsi issued an apology for any offence caused. The Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad serves as an example of the potential consequences when a marketing campaign fails to consider the sensitivities and complexities of social and political issues.

Do people forget the marketing blunders?


Whether people forget a marketing blunder an organization has created can vary depending on several factors, such as the severity of the blunder, the organization's response, and the overall perception of the brand. While some marketing blunders may fade from public memory over time, others can have a lasting impact on a company's reputation.

In today's digital age, news spreads quickly through social media and online platforms, making it challenging for organizations to completely erase the memory of a significant marketing blunder. The internet's permanence means that even if people forget initially, a quick search can bring up past incidents and remind them.

However, over time, public attention may shift, and people's interest in a particular blunder may diminish. If an organization takes swift and appropriate action to rectify the situation, demonstrates genuine remorse, and implements changes to prevent similar mistakes in the future, it can help rebuild trust and minimize the long-term impact of the blunder.

That said, some marketing blunders can be so significant and damaging that they become part of a company's legacy, continually referenced and remembered even years later. The level of public outrage, media coverage, and the blunder's overall impact on customers and stakeholders play a role in determining whether it will be forgotten or not.

Ultimately, it is challenging to predict with certainty whether people will forget a specific marketing blunder. It depends on the circumstances surrounding the blunder and the actions taken by the organization to address and learn from their mistakes.

How should an organisation handle a marketing blunder?

Handling a marketing blunder requires a thoughtful and strategic approach to mitigate the negative impact and restore trust with your audience. Here are some steps to consider when managing a marketing blunder:

1. Acknowledge and take responsibility: Promptly acknowledge the mistake and take full responsibility for it. Admitting fault demonstrates transparency and a willingness to address the issue

2. Apologize sincerely: Offer a sincere and genuine apology to those who were affected or offended by the blunder. Show empathy and acknowledge the impact of your actions or campaign.

3. Listen to feedback: Pay attention to the feedback and concerns raised by your audience. Actively listen to their perspectives and learn from the criticism to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

4. Address the issue promptly: Take swift action to rectify the situation. This could involve removing or revising the offensive content, clarifying any misconceptions, or issuing a public statement to clarify your brand's values and commitment to doing better.

5. Communicate transparently: Keep your audience informed about the steps you are taking to address the blunder and prevent similar incidents. Transparency helps rebuild trust and shows your commitment to learning from mistakes

6. Learn and adapt: Conduct an internal review to understand how the blunder occurred and identify areas for improvement. Use the experience as a learning opportunity to refine your marketing strategies and processes.

7. Engage with your audience: Actively engage with your audience through social media, public statements, or other channels to address concerns, answer questions, and provide updates. This engagement helps rebuild relationships and demonstrates your commitment to open communication.

8. Train and educate your team: Provide training and education to your marketing and communication teams to ensure they understand cultural sensitivities, social issues, and ethical considerations. This helps prevent future blunders and promotes responsible marketing practices.

9. Rebuild trust: Rebuilding trust takes time. Consistently demonstrate your commitment to the values and promises you make, and be transparent about your progress. Engage in positive actions and initiatives that align with your brand values to regain trust with your audience.

Remember that each marketing blunder is unique, and the appropriate response may vary depending on the specific circumstances. It's crucial to tailor your approach to the situation, always prioritize the needs and concerns of your audience, and continuously learn from your mistakes.

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