The Risk of Activism Marketing

As cringe-worthy as it might sound, activism is all the rage right now. It has an influence on the hottest fashion, regularly floods social media, and has made regular citizens into celebrities as if it were the 1960s all over again. With all the buzz of activism, businesses are taking notice, and their marketing teams are trying to take advantage of any relevant news to help boost their sales.

Will Activism Marketing Help or Hurt your Brand?

A focus on activism can help give your brand a great boost, but a lot of brands shy away from the practice because the messaging must be spot-on, or you could be spending millions of dollars only to create stress for your PR team. Nike tried it and found success in their Equality Campaign, but then Pepsi tried it and did not find the same level of success.

Yesterday (April 4th, 2017) Pepsi released an ad starring the ever-so-popular reality TV star and haute couture supermodel Kendall Jenner. The ad shows her leaving her glamorous lifestyle of high fashion and paparazzi cameras to join the fight for the little guy. Throwing off her wig, and trading in her expensive dress for a t-shirt and pair of jeans, the supermodel grabs a refreshing, ice-cold Pepsi and joins the movement. As she marches, leading her very diverse group of peers, she approaches a line of “aggressive” police officers, offers one of them a Pepsi, and solves all of the world’s problems.

Now, no matter how much fun we can have sarcastically recapping this commercial, there are a number of ways Pepsi missed the mark in their execution of this ad. One is the protest – it seems quite jubilant. Now, if you ask people who have been involved in a protest, I’m sure most will tell you they weren’t just protesting for fun, but Pepsi’s protest is reminiscent of a neighborhood block party.

Another mistake is the overall imagery of the ad. It very much screams, “We want to relate to millennials, but we don’t have any on our staff.” Pepsi comes across like a person trying much too hard, who wants to be hip or cool rather than authentic and genuine. You know they mean well, but this commercial is off-putting due to its lack of authenticity, and forced methods they use to try to relate to millennials. The ad includes images of brunch-goers, freelance artists and photographers, hipster beanies, fist bumps, and let’s not forget the celebratory “hit them folks” dance move that helps tie the commercial together but ends up being quite corny.

Even with all of these smaller errors, Pepsi’s biggest mistake was that they didn’t realize the commercial makes light of very serious issues that are plaguing the country today, and that no soft drink, no matter how refreshing, is going to solve them. They aimed to take advantage of the fight that many activists are still fighting, but they did not contribute to the causes at all.

Activism is about community, making an impact, and solving a problem, not merely selling a product. Pepsi lost sight of that with this ad, and that is why they caught the flak for it that they did, which led to them pulling the ad. It’s always convenient to ride the wave of popular culture, until you start riding it and realize that it was a bit too big for you to maintain your balance. And in marketing, finding your balance is key.

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