For believers of that old adage that all publicity is good publicity, Pepsi certainly got its money worth last week. The focus, of course, was that now infamous, now-deleted protest-themed commercial featuring Kendall Jenner.
The ad showed Jenner acting the part of peacekeeper during a "Black Lives Matter"/"Resistance"-style protest. In the ad, Jenner hands a can of soda to a riot-police officer to make things well, okay. The ad apparently intended to evoke images of unity, but instead oversimplified protest movements. Critics of the ad accused Pepsi of distorting complex police and community relations and suggesting that such problems could be solved by something as simple as a white celebrity, and a soda.
Social media, meanwhile, went crazy. Pepsi had certainly gotten its name out there, but not in the way it had intended: Having its brand connected with hot-button terms like "Syria," World War II" and "boycott" as part of the resulting social media blitz probably sent company ad exes scrambling. Even Saturday Night Live took on the Pepsi ad in a scathing skit.
According to international social media analytics firm Talkwalker, there were more than 2.7 million mentions of Pepsi in social media in the past week.
While the top social post was Jenner’s own promoting the ad (and since deleted), with more than 2.5 million likes, today’s trending posts are using hashtags like #PepsiGate, #BoycottPepsi and #PepsiLivesMatter and look more like this Tweet.
The politically-charged ad attracted both sides of the spectrum, with discussion focused on the irony, as one tweeter pointed out, that the ad received more attention than the horrific gas attacks in Syria.
Additionally, a number of posts parodied the ad with the news of the day, with the name Trump trending because it is mentioned in connection with Pepsi more than 77,000 times. One Twitter user joked, darkly, that Kendall Jenner was on a charter flight to Syria, with a can of Pepsi in hand.
For her part, Jenner spoke out about her part in the controversy. A National Post (a Canadian publication) Facebook post discussed Jenner apparently feeling traumatized over the backlash following the controversy. The 25,000-plus comments attached to the post show that maybe Jenner should have continued to lie low since they are uniformly negative about her and Pepsi.
And then . . . nothing could be more powerful than this tweet from Bernice King, youngest daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi," she wrote.
Before making the kind of major-league mistake that Pepsi made, every entrepreneur can take a few great lessons from the company's approach to its advertising campaign:
1. Pay attention.
If Pepsi had created the ad in-house, perhaps an outside agency might have provided some needed perspective about creative choices and the implications of this ad with regards to the Black Lives Matter movement.
2. Think before you tweet.
Someone somewhere will have a screenshot of your Tweet, so there is no value in tweeting and deleting because it will come back to haunt you. The best advice is to pause and consider all circumstances before you tweet.
3. Remember that social backlash is brutal.
If you are going to be active on social media, make sure that you think through the kinds of responses you will receive to your tweet or Instagram post. Run through the scenarios in your mind before you hit send.
4. Let it go.
When you make a mistake, accept responsibility. Don’t compound the damage by making excuses or continuing to post to social media. When Nivea recently ran a "White is Purity" campaign and was faced with swift backlash on social media, the company stuck wiith one apology across platforms: "That image was inappropriate and not reflective of our values as a company," it said. "We deeply apologize for that and have removed the post."
Nivea stayed on message, repeated the apology and offered no further explanation as to the thought progress behind the campaign in question. Then it got back to talking about lotion.