April 5, 2017 Last Updated 4:41 pm

Pepsi in-house agency produced ad goes viral, but now comes the clean-up effort

The ad community gets its chance to laugh a little (or maybe a lot) and agencies get a big opportunity to remind their clients the value of outside marketing help

There is always a debate about what was/is the best TV ad ever produced. Apple’s 1984 commercial is usually named, as is the Coke’s ‘Hilltop” ad. Both of these ads, it might be pointed out, have reached their lofty positions in retrospect. The Apple ad, after all, only ran on broadcast television one time where a large number of people could see it (it had run on a few local channels earlier so that it could qualify for 1983 advertising awards).

Of course, today, a lot of advertising professionals are discussing the new ad from Pepsi, which the company hopes one day will not be remembered as one of the most tone-deaf, silly ads ever produced by the advertising industry. We’ll see.

(Late on Wednesday afternoon, one day after releasing the ad, Pepsi withdrew it and issued the following statement.

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”)


Before tracking some of the response to Pepsi’s seeming fiasco, it is good to remember why some remember fondly the two ads mentioned above.

Apple’s ad was produced by Chiat\Day and directed by Ridley Scott. I think those two facts have a lot of influence on people’s opinion of the ad. Both parties have come to be highly regarded. Like an early LP by a rock group, people like to look back at some of the first work produced with fondness.

But there are other reasons to love the “1984” ad. First, unlike many ads of the time, this one had impeccable production values. It also hit on a theme many appreciated: distain for big brother – in this case, IBM, but remember this was also the Reagan era.

So, the ad was in some ways political, but in a very neutral way. No one could debate whether “Big Brother” is bad, so the ad went after a soft target.

I find the ad has one fault, however. Notice the people seated, all bald-headed lemmings. It was, in a way, doing something that has become fairly common now, and really annoys me, it was insulting its intended audience. Back in 1984, that was new and so probably didn’t resonate. But look at many ads today (the GE ads are a good example), everyone in the ads except the pitch person is often made to look like a fool. But those fools are us, the people the brand is selling to.

Here is Apple’s ad:


Far more people remember Apple’s ad in retrospect than could possibly have seen it live. The same is not true for Coke’s Hilltop ad. It ran regularly on national television, or at least a version of it.

Created by another famous ad agency, McCann Erickson, the Hilltop ad led to the jingle being transformed into a hit single by The New Seekers (proving that not every song topping the charts back then was a classic rock song).

If you were alive back then, if was hard not to remember the ad. The song stuck in your head. But the message was peace and love at a time of war. Yet, despite its obvious political overtones, it, too, was neutral. You didn’t see any images other than singers. No napalm, no soldiers, just singers on a hilltop.

What the ad had going for it, was that it was part of an aggressive marketing campaign put on my an aggressive marketers. Coke ads, like I suppose Budweiser today, were seen frequently, and their changing themes often discussed.

Here is Coke’s ad:


Oh brother, now there is Pepsi.

I’ll let other media outlets talk about the content, but let’s talk basics.


“Hey, lady, why are you handing me your wig?”

The ad was produced by Pepsi’s in-house team, Creators League Studio. If there was ever an argument to be made by outside advertising agencies, this is it. I can imagine many agencies fine tuning their pitches right now, adding a mention that by employing them they will never have to deal with the kind of blowback Pepsi is dealing with today.

The ad is long at 2:40, which means, mercifully, Pepsi won’t be spending any money broadcasting it (I assume). It was meant to be a viral piece of video – in that they succeeded.

“This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey,” Pepsi told AdWeek.

Later, in a statement to Teen Vogue, Pepsi said: “The creative showcases a moment of unity, and a point where multiple storylines converge in the final advert. It depicts various groups of people embracing a spontaneous moment, and showcasing Pepsi’s brand rallying cry to ‘Live For Now,’ in an exploration of what that truly means to live life unbounded, unfiltered and uninhibited.”

Nice try.

Maybe you won’t find that ad as cringeworthy as others have. I laughed out loud and several times had to stop the ad. But it’s advertising, I thought yesterday, and moved on. But this one has shelf life, which Pepsi will have to deal with.

Here is Pepsi’s ad (note: Pepsi just pulled the ad from YouTube, but there remains a few versions still available)


The Coverage:

The Washington Post, Tracy Jan:

Pepsi tried cashing in on Black Lives Matter with a Kendall Jenner ad. Here’s how that’s going.

A new Pepsi ad campaign invoking a Black Lives Matter protest drew immediate backlash on social media for appropriating a movement highlighting the killings of black Americans by police.

In the 2½ minute ad, celebrity model Kendall Jenner notices a passing rainbow coalition of marchers while she’s in the midst of a modeling shoot. She tosses her blond wig, wipes away her lipstick, and struts purposefully into the crowd…

…DeRay Mckesson, a Black Lives Matter activist, called the ad “trash” on Twitter. “If I had carried Pepsi I guess I never would have been arrested. Who knew?” he wrote.

Other critics called it a tone-deaf ad strategy and questioned the diversity of the executives involved. Pepsi’s chief executive, Indra Nooyi, is an Indian woman.

“Corporations like Pepsi should make political statements. But their statements shouldn’t distort political realities to generate revenue,” Khaled Beydoun, a law professor and scholar of critical race theory at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, wrote on Twitter.

AdWeek, Kristina Monllos:

How Pepsi Got It So Wrong: Unpacking One of the Most Reviled Ads in Recent Memory

So what happened? How did Pepsi get here and what can marketers learn from this debacle?

“Pepsi should have consulted people who have actually been on the front lines of protests these recent years,” explained writer, social worker and activist Feminista Jones. “The organizers, protestors, educators … all of those who have been instrumental in bringing about these recent movements for justice. Brands should never make light of social issues related to people’s suffering; they should, instead, focus on selling their products in ways that don’t exploit the pain and suffering of marginalized people.”…

…“Ridiculous ad,” said Edward Boches, professor of advertising at Boston University and a former partner, CCO at Mullen Lowe. “Shows no awareness of the protestors mindset or environment. Feels completely dishonest and contrived. Was clearly done by people who have not attended a protest or spent time on the streets and have no understanding of the pent up anger.”

Eric Thomas on LinkedIn:

How to make Millennials hate you, The Pepsi Way.

In the pantheon of offensive media, this is the holy grail. The Magnum opus. A love letter to disconnectedness. This is the Philosopher’s Stone of crap media. They turned gold back into lead. As a millennial, I found myself frustrated. As an African American, I found myself watching mouth agape as Pepsi reduced very real challenges that we experience as a community to ‘a couple of guys in need of a Pepsi.’ When it ended, my business partner and I just sat in silence for about 30 seconds trying to piece together what we saw. Then we watched it again to make sure we were not overreacting…

…Firstly, the Kardashian family are the poster children of modern cultural appropriation. From “boxer braids” or the sudden acceptance of curves and full lips, the Kardashians have made millions off of features that African American and Hispanic people had previous been made to feel ashamed of. To make Kendall Jenner the face of, largely ethnic, protests is yet another slap in the face. A caucasian, blonde, classically beautiful, affluent, kid born into celebrity probably isn’t the person you need to represent struggle and civil unrest…

…In 30 seconds, and with the help of a costume change, Kendall is suddenly the de facto leader of an uprising. So she does what any self-respecting, empowered woman would do. She looks to her new boyfriend for the go ahead. After she gets his blessing, she grabs a Pepsi and charges into battle.

This one must have been a fun one to write – notice that it is from “Slate Staff” – bet there were a lot of rejected ideas for questions.

Slate, Slate Staff:

30 Questions for Pepsi About Its Protest Imagery-Inspired Soda Commercial

5. Who provided the helicopter to get that guy on the roof so he could play his cello?

6. Has anyone ever gotten that sweaty playing the cello?

10. Why are the only people dancing black?

11. Where’s Katy Perry?

30. Sorry, we don’t have Coke. Is Pepsi OK?

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