Really there was no fight at all. It was like that cop in the Pepsi ad drinking a Pepsi. The company had an epiphany of “gee, why didn’t we think of that before we made this stupid ad?” And it was over, just like that.
Pepsi tried to somehow capture the bottomless pit of resistance of Generation Outrage, but instead found itself consumed.
As a tail-end baby boomer, I found Pepsi’s entry for the Muddle Message Hall of Fame to be–muddled. I couldn’t really identify a message. Here was Kendall Jenner as a blonde, and a brunette, wiping lipstick with the back of her hand, like Queen Elsa letting down her hair during the climatic key change in “Let It Go.”
It’s me! I’m joining the revolution! Here I come, good-looking young people marching through the streets. And good-looking young ballcap-wearing police officer, here’s your Pepsi! Come along with us and be young and good-looking!
But I’m older and miss the point. Social relevance is one of those ephemeral, wispy things that companies grasp for and seldom catch. Pepsi just happened to be particularly bad at it. They’ve also got the disadvantage (in my opinion, yours may differ) of selling a bad product. Pepsi is truly awful.
The problem here is that Pepsi tried to be socially relevant to a group for whom social relevance means outrage. Generation Outrage cannot suffer being co-opted–the word they use is “appropriated.”
I mean, who would dare to try to socially engineer and appropriate the energy and outrage of the young and good-looking to buy a product? The New York Times published a whole list, if you’re interested, because “when it comes to viral marketing, the resistance is hot right now.”
- Thinx “pee-proof” panties and “organic cotton tampons”
- Glossier makeup “WE’RE IN IT TOGETHER”
- Robert James $1,700 suits “#NotMyGovt”
- 84 Lumber’s weird Mexican wall Super Bowl ad
So why did Pepsi fail where others seem to cash in? Maybe it’s because they’re just not authentic enough. They could have gone for a more subtle approach and done something like this, for instance.
It’s less preachy to make a visual statement versus trying to tell a story of outrage. And those kids in the Pepsi ad don’t seem to be outraged. They may as well be on their way to a rave party versus a protest. Pepsi tried to harness some of the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” from 1971. But in 1971, it was all about Generation Love. And those turtleneck-wearing kids in 1971 weren’t half as good-looking as the Pepsi kids, so it was more believable.
Lesson learned: You can’t use love to buy in to outrage. It’s just not authentic.
Oh, and Pepsi, here’s a clue. If you want to sell more sugar water, make it taste less like battery acid.