The Problem With Pepsi

By Sophie Pickerden @SophieBlogPR

Pepsi is one of the most well-known brands in the world and with this comes great responsibility.

Throughout the years, Pepsi have promoted their product through various advertisements and marketing schemes. Pepsi are also well known for having celebrity ambassadors who regularly appear in their TV/Social media ads.

In April 2017, Pepsi released their latest advert which starred well known model and reality TV star Kendall Jenner. The advert was met with wide criticism from around the world for it for its supposed trivialising of problems in the United States, such as police brutality.

The advert showed Kendall Jenner, joining a protest where there appears to be some conflict between the protesters and the police. Jenner then offers one of the policeman a Pepsi drink which leads to the animosity disappearing and both protesters and policeman begin to celebrate. The advert received a huge amount of backlash from various activist groups, celebrities and the general public. On social media, people created memes mocking the advert and calling into question the company’s apparent lack of awareness on the severity of issues affecting minority groups in America.

The advert was removed a day after it was published to the world. Pepsi issued a statement apologising to anyone offended and also apologised to Kendall Jenner, who had also received a huge amount of backlash.

Pepsi also offered an explanation to the public on the vision behind the advert and how they intended the advert to be received. The statement read:

Pepsi “was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding.”

The company added, “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.” (CNBC)

The controversy didn’t go away quickly and there could potential be long-term damage for the company caused by this.

From a public relations perspective, many people have questioned how a company such as Pepsi didn’t see the problems that could arise from the advert. Marketing Week’s Thomas Hobbs called the ad “tone deaf” and argued that “reducing the current global protest movement to a supermodel handing out cans of Pepsi feels terribly misjudged” (MarketingWeek).

PepsiControversyTweet.jpgTerry O’Reilly, a well known broadcaster who examines the cultural impact on marketing and advertising tweeted in regards to the ad. Terry expressed the idea that the ad was created “in house” and Pepsi didn’t use an external agency. Terry argued that by Pepsi failing to use an external agency, they therefore didn’t receive an objective opinion.

PRWeek ran a poll asking visitors to their website, what went wrong with the Pepsi ad starring Kendall Jenner?

  • A – Easy. It was created in-house. An agency would have known better.
  • B – A PR agency or corporate communications executive clearly wasn’t involved. They would have squashed it.
  • C – This is what happens when there’s an extreme lack of diversity—and diversity of thought—in marketing departments.
  • D – Brands are trying way too hard to reach millennials.
  • E – Employees are too afraid to speak up to prevent bad ideas—or horribly bad ideas, in this case.

The results found that 41.8% chose option B and believe there is a lack of diversity in marketing departments and 22.3% of the respondents chose option D in that brands are trying too hard to reach millennials. Only 6.1% agreed with Terry in that an agency would have realized the potential offence that could be caused and that an agency would have been able to relay the message of unity in a more respectable way (PRWeek).

The Pepsi Ad caused lots of problems for the company and angered a lot of their publics. However how much effect will this have on the company?

Do the vast sales and global notoriety make the company untouchable? Will this scandal be forgotten soon? Only time will tell.




I am a 3rd Year Student at Leeds Beckett University, studying Public Relations and Communications. I also have experience in events management and media relations.

I currently run my own blog where I share my thoughts on current topics in the PR world as well as world events in general.

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