PR nightmare or unintended awareness windfall? The controversial new Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner may not be as bad for the brand as you think. Digital Director Sagar Patel gives his two cents.

Me St
  • Sagar Patel
  • Digital Director

Pepsi's PR Grand Slam

I know what you’re thinking. Pepsi has a nightmare public relations issue on their hands. Their latest television spot, with uber-popular Kendall Jenner at the forefront, has caused a mess. They attempted to use Pepsi as a vehicle to bring peace between opposing parties (in this case, protesters and police), but it backfired. They minimized the importance of a movement and used a polarizing Hollywood-ite as a pawn. They received backlash from the public and as a way to save face, they pulled the ad spot and issued an apology.

IF that is what you think, you’re missing the bigger picture. But before we get into that, let’s first quickly touch on the subject matter and perceived backlash. In Pepsi’s apology, they state that they were ’trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding.’ Who really knows if that’s true, but let’s take them for their word.

Some people became very vocal, claiming Pepsi devalued the importance of protesting and the current state of the country. Again, who really knows if they are upset, but let’s also take them for their word.

I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle — some of the public is genuinely mad while most are not, and Pepsi tried to make a statement by running that spot and is somewhat apologetic.

Is this all THAT bad? Did someone get harmed because of this ad spot? Was it as dangerous as the old ‘razor blade found in the city park sandbox’? No. Nor do I believe that Americans feel Pepsi intentionally caused offense.

Let me tell you why this situation, using some simple math, is a PR grand slam for Pepsi.

When Pepsi launched the television spot, their formula was simple:

Content + Distribution = cool

They figured if they lined up their product with a popular public figure, produced a great commercial and had a storyline that people can relate to, and distributed it like they would have anyway, on TV, that their audience would continue to perceive Pepsi in a positive light. Easy.

The backlash came and resulted:

Content - Distribution + Apology = ?

Pepsi’s high ranking officials and public relations team knew that they spent a boatload on producing the commercial: a seven-figure-plus level talent, distribution on a number of networks at opportune and expensive timeslots. By removing the spot after receiving complaints and issuing an apology, was this all just going to go away? Would a few days pass by and all would be forgotten? That is likely the case, time period pending.

However, the formula that has been at play over the last few days has been pure gold for them:

Content - TV Distribution + Apology + Social Media Coverage + TV Media Coverage = $$$


I would argue that this turn of events ended up working in Pepsi’s favor. They revoked their own television spots, lost money while doing so, but the conversation on social media has been at the top of the trending topics for the last 72 hours, people are watching the commercial over and over again on YouTube and all of the biggest morning shows and evening news shows have covered it to some degree.

Do we think people are going to STOP drinking Pepsi because of this? No. Do we think that people who never drink soda or prefer Coke are going to be swayed to drink Pepsi? Likely not. One thing that the ad did better than it ever could have given my first formula, is it brought a whole other level of conversation and awareness to Pepsi. In the long term, the negativity around the brand will not persist because, quite frankly, they did nothing wrong. They told a story, some did agree with it and took offense, and they played a perceived PR nightmare into something special that will one day be looked at as the perfect reaction to brand adversity.

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