In Defence Of THAT Pepsi AD (And Kendall Jenner, Too!)

In Defence Of THAT Pepsi AD (And Kendall Jenner, Too!)
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In this guest post, B&T’s very own David Hovenden outs himself as possibly the only person on the planet that didn’t loathe Kendall’s ill-fated Pepsi ad…

The world has united in an orgiastic frenzy of condemnation of PepsiCo’s let’s admit pretty cringe worthy new spot featuring Kendall Jenner. Yes, I did laugh when I first saw the 2:40 video, it was ludicrous and had a wonderful amount of naff moments.

However I’m a little at a loss as to why the world has piled on this marketing effort with such a vengeance. For my mind, it was at the inoffensive end of the spectrum and I think the overriding message was one of peace, inclusion and diversity.

Yes it missed the mark, but its central figure was a strong woman, someone who’s not part of my everyday thoughts, but who features large in my 14-year-old daughter’s life as a role model. She’s her “favourite Kardashian”.

I also tend to look at the intention behind the message. I honestly don’t think it was a cynical exercise to exploit famous protest scenes from history to appropriate the worthiness to sell my cans of fizzy drink. I think the intention was to send a message of peace and unity, which is pretty stock in trade for most brands these days.

PepsiCo, to its credit, has some pretty solid runs on the board as a corporation for putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to diversity, inclusion and equality.

I was privileged enough to recently sit in on a session at SXSW in Austin Texas this year called Elephant on Madison Avenue. It was a panel session featuring 3% Movement’s Lisen Stromberg and Pepsi’s Brad Jakeman.

As president, PepsiCo global beverage group, Jakeman leads global category strategy, brand building, design, advertising, marketing, innovation and branded content for PepsiCo’s global portfolio of beverages, which includes ten of PepsiCo’s US$22 billion brands such as Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Aquafina, Mirinda, 7UP and Gatorade.

Some of the points Jakeman made on the panel are worthy of mention here.

Firstly, PepsiCo has a strong history of supporting and employing people of colour. Here’s a quick take from the company’s own website:

“Despite the segregated landscape of the 1940s, PepsiCo understood the untapped market potential in the urban markets, and led the way by making the bold move to create America’s first black sales force. This trailblazing action laid the foundation for opportunities for people of color, while also setting the stage for the business case for diversity.

PepsiCo’s President Walter Mack crossed the color line when he selected two black students, Allen McKellar and Jeanette Maund, to participate in the first paid college internship program through the Job Awards for American Youth contest. The duo teamed up with Herman Smith, the company’s first black salesman, to target the African-American market.

At this time, to place African-Americans in white-collar jobs was unprecedented but PepsiCo forged ahead, creating a sales force that proved the previously ignored demographic was filled with valuable employees and consumers, forever changing big business in America and clearing a path for people of all ethnicities to succeed in a real way.

In 1947, Edward F. Boyd joined the company to lead the special sales force, and he was instrumental in changing the perception of African-Americans by highlighting achievements of people of color in areas like education and science instead of focusing solely on entertainers and public figures.

In 1950, Boyd hired Harvey C. Russell, who began his 27-year career as Staff Field Coordinator. Russell rose through the ranks to become the first African-American Vice President at the company and is considered the architect of diversity and inclusion for PepsiCo. His innovations in social responsibility and targeted marketing helped establish PepsiCo’s reputation as a socially conscious corporation. Harvey’s commitment to community, standards of excellence and fairness led PepsiCo to create the prestigious Global Harvey C. Russell Inclusion Award to recognize individuals and teams who exemplify his values.

During the tumultuous times of the sixties and under threat of boycotts from the Ku Klux Klan, PepsiCo continued to push forward by naming H. Naylor Fitzhugh, one of the first African-Americans to receive an MBA from Harvard, as the Vice President of Markets in 1965.

Twelve years later, William T. Coleman Jr. was elected to PepsiCo’s board, starting what would become a series of minority appointments to the coveted seats. By 1985, the Black Managers Association had formed, and in another historic move, Dr. William Harvey became the first black owner of a Pepsi franchise.

The nineties brought a new wave of bold moves from PepsiCo when Lloyd Ward became the first African-American to head a division at Frito-Lay in 1991.

 Furthermore, Jakeman told the room at SXSW you need to lead to build the society you want. He also said diversity couldn’t be a compliance issue, rather it has to be a business priority.

He related anecdotes when he fired a head-hunter who told him there were no senior women for a role he was recruiting for. “The university of my eyes tells me differently,” he said.

Another initiative Jakeman has started is Life Water, a bottled water brand rolled out which features designs from emerging artists on the bottle. “It gives the artists the opportunity to exhibit in the biggest gallery in the world,” he said.

So the point I’m making is PepsiCo hasn’t just stumbled on to this issue and decided to make a quick buck.

Why have we turned on this campaign when there’s so many more objectionable spots out there such as Yves Saint Laurent recent efforts or even Australia’s very own Ultra Tune spots?

For my money, Pepsi’s recent efforts is more closely aligned with AirBnB’s positioning and even our beloved Monkey’s lamb spots.

I started by saying the Pepsi ad was clumsy, but really is it so deserving of the savagery unleashed against it by the taciturn nature of social media. I would imagine there’s some solace at least being taken in the amount of earned brand exposure the piece has generated. At the end of the day, if you subscribe to the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s assertions, there’s probably going to be a lot more people considering the brand than there was and what that means is sales will probably go up.

And all of this hoopla will soon all be long forgotten.

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