The now-infamous advertisement that Pepsi released last week was intended to leverage current events as a way of connecting with millennials in a positive, hope driving manner. However, as the public (and presumably Pepsi) quickly learned, it is not always the intent of a campaign that matters. Rather it is the way in which an idea is executed that allows a brand to connect with its intended audience.
There are many things that could have been done differently by Pepsi in the creation of its latest campaign, the most glaring of which centers around the full understanding of one’s audience, and the correct portrayal of the people featured in the ad. While Pepsi should have been doing its market research to see how millennials really feel about the conflicts portrayed in the ad (i.e. immigration bans enforced by the Trump administration and the issue of police brutality against people of colour), the brand instead took a stereotypical approach to what millennials are sometimes thought to see: nothing more than celebrities and the ability to jump on the bandwagon of a movement. This obviously did not connect with the audience in the way Pepsi had thought it would.
One recent example of an ad campaign that did an excellent job of portraying real people in a real, compelling light is SickKids’ MomStrong, featuring mothers of sick children and the feelings that come with having a child in the hospital. Unlike Pepsi, SickKids leveraged what it knows and understands about both the mothers in the commercial and the audience watching to show and incite real emotions. SickKids has been praised for not shying away from featuring sadness, anger and fear in their ad. The fact that the women featured are real mothers of children being treated by SickKids further drives the personal connection between brand, cause, and audience.
One major takeaway in the comparison between Pepsi and SickKids? Real emotion results in real impact. While SickKids was creating an advertisement that featured tears and screams of rage, Pepsi portrayed an important issue with false feelings of contentment and even joy. And while SickKids is tugging at heartstrings and compelling people to donate, Pepsi is facing a public relations crisis.