In the short half-life of scandals and outrage these days, I know it already seems like forever ago, but I wanted to take a minute to reflect on the “Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad” debacle of 2017. In the ad, reality star/model Jenner “throws off the chains of the modeling industry,” joining a Black Lives Matter protest, and ultimately bringing “everyone together by … handing a cop a Pepsi.”
You can see, perhaps, the problem.
There is plenty to analyze in terms of what is wrong with the ad, but, as someone with a background in marketing, I find myself more interested in a related question: how did the ad get made?
Interestingly, Pepsi used an in-house firm to design the ad – a move which many in agency life fingered as the culprit. If only Pepsi had had an outside perspective, an external agency with a beat on the broader culture, such an ad would never have been made. While there’s no way to know if that may have been a mitigating factor, ad agencies have made their fair share of gaffes, too.
But whether the ad was created by an in-house firm or an outside ad agency, it would have needed to go through numerous iterations and revisions. Numerous people must have looked at the ad concept, script, and footage. And none of them seemingly walked away questioning whether the ad could face backlash.
Now, I don’t know the demographics of the marketers who made this ad, but I’d bet good money that the majority of them were white.
And while that may be an implicit assumption which goes hand in hand with the very notion that this ad was created, it is worth pausing for a moment and reflecting on this.
When company’s make blunders like this, we shouldn’t just mock them and wonder how they got so out of touch. We more or less know, sociologically speaking, exactly how they got out of touch.
When everyone reviewing an ad is more or less the same, we shouldn’t be surprised when they turn out tone-deaf material.
The outrage here shouldn’t just be about one ad or about one company; we should all be outraged that we live in such a deeply segregated society that in a whole room full of people it is hardly surprising that not one black voice was heard.