Today I’m going to tell you a story about a business that has completely misunderstood their consumer… and I mean completely.

First things first, if you haven’t already read my article on millennials and social activism I would start here.

Secondly, if you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 48 hours and haven’t watched Pepsi’s latest campaign featuring Kendall Jenner please watch the video below:

Me: *cringes for the whole 2 minutes 39 seconds*

No, unfortunately that wasn’t a belated April fools joke, it’s Pepsi’s latest attempt to desperately relate to millennials. It is clear that Pepsi have ignorantly created an advertisement where Keeping Up With The Kardashian’s Star Kendall Jenner breaks free from her modelling shoot to join the world’s most ambiguous protest. On top of the commercialisation of social issues and the blatant appropriation of every protest in history, Kendall saves the day by handing the cop a Pepsi!

If only we all knew that in order to fix institutional racism, oppression and inequality this whole time, all we had to do was show up to the protest with a can of soft drink! *sigh*

No. Just no Pepsi (and the internet agrees with me):

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It is important for marketers to learn from Pepsi’s mistake as it exemplifies how important it is to have a thorough understanding of your target market. Pepsi didn’t and that’s why they’ve missed the mark. I believe the main issues with the campaign stemmed from:

1. Their lack of understanding of their consumer

As my last article stated, the millennial generation are at the forefront of social activism. We stand up for those who share our worldviews and just as easily degrade those who challenge them. The issue with Pepsi’s advertisement is it stands for nothing, there was no message. The signage in the protest was almost comically innocuous with statements such as “love, peace, voice, join the conversation.” The advertisement would have been more powerful if it took a stance and had a real purpose. Without it, it just seems as if they purely just attempted to capitalise off political distraught.

It is almost as if the Pepsi marketing team have seen a statistic about millennials high involvement in social activism and have based a campaign on that and only that, without accurately researching the segment and understanding their motivations. If they did, they would have realised the emotion and seriousness that is behind such movements and they would have realised millennials triggers and barriers to purchase.

2. Their choice of opinion leader

I won’t deny that the Kardashian’s are a forced to be reckoned with, especially Kendall with near 78 million instagram followers. However, I question whether it’s entirely appropriate to cast a privileged white reality tv star to mimic an iconic Black Lives Matter protest. I believe they have misinterpreted how millennials follow opinion leaders e.g. Kendall might be an appropriate opinion leader for fashion or beauty campaign but not for one based on social activism. It is a shame that she was the chosen candidate to represent millennials for social activism when there are thousands of influential young women who are so powerful, risking their lives daily fighting for social justice.

3. Their need to follow culture and not lead it

‘Leading culture’ includes content that sparks conversation about a new topic, it provokes early adopters to get the discussion started. Marketing that is fresh to the media and meaningful is more likely to resonate with consumers and be adopted within the market. If you only ever follow culture (like Pepsi have done) it is difficult to captivate your audience because it’s too little too late.

Not even 24 hours later, Pepsi felt the full wrath of millennial criticism and decided to pull the ad, releasing the following statement:

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