Well, that escalated quickly.
No sooner had Pepsi launched its shiny and expensive global campaign starring the effervescent Kendall Jenner in a very "woke" and zeitgeisty protest-themed commercial, than it had to pull the ad in the wake of an epic social media backlash. The humbled soft drinks giant promptly made a groveling apology.
Having birthed what many people are calling the "worst ad ever," Pepsi said it had "[c]learly missed the mark" in its attempt to "project a global message of unity, peace and understanding" and apologized profusely to the world and particularly to Jenner.
Pepsi pulling ad + also apologizes to Kendall Jenner - I was under the impression that she's a grown ass woman who was present for filming. https://t.co/60yOA4yTi6
- Yashar (@yashar) 5 April 2017
The strangeness of the apology set off a mini-storm on Twitter (again) and left people wondering what involvement Jenner, a somewhat reluctant millennial Joan of Arc, had, if any, in bringing the concept to life. According to TMZ, Jenner had no "involvement in the creative process" and that she took on the project with "no knowledge of the marketing vision." Further, Jenner knew the storyline when she got the script, but by then things were "already a done deal." The TMZ report asks more questions than it answers about Jenner and her team's input as well as their seeming inability to halt the process and ask Pepsi the pertinent question: "Guys, are we sure about this?"
Ah yes, the process. In his monologue on Wednesday, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel articulated what many people were thinking, to wit, how this ad ever saw the light of day. "The fact that this somehow made it through - I can't imagine how many meetings, and edits, and pitches, and then got the thumbs-up from who know's how many people is absolutely mind-boggling," he said.
So who, exactly, was involved? Advertising industry website Ad Age did some digging and found that Pepsi's in-house creative team, the Creators League Studio, dreamed up the concept, which the company said the day before the final ad's release "takes a more progressive approach to truly reflect today's generation and what living for now looks like."
Ad Age reported that the studio is overseen by Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo's global beverage group. Interestingly, immediately after the worldwide rollout of the ad on Tuesday morning, Jakeman tweeted that he was "super proud of the @PepsiCo #CreatorsLeague for producing this." The tweet has since been deleted.
U.K. tabloid The Mirror found that only six people are credited with the ad: creative director Pete Kasko, director Michael Bernard, executive producer Ben Freedman, agency creative director Kristin Patrick, agency executive producer Ally Polly and agency producer Allison Sipes. The Mirror reported that all six key people working on the ad were white and that fact, perhaps in some way, explains the tone-deaf nature of the concept, which rather unsubtly lifted themes from the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Mike Middleton, head of creative at Dentsu Mobius Media, told The Hollywood Reporter that a lot of the issues surrounding this ad likely stemmed from the use of an in-house creative team. "Clients are often keen to try and cut out agencies because we're 'more expensive.' But agencies are paid to give wise counsel, and this sort of thing would have been flagged," said Middleton.
Middleton added: "Any agency worth its salt wouldn't have allowed this work, if they knew it was bad, out the door. And if nothing else, a real agency would have been a 'throat to strangle,' somebody that the client could blame."
The backlash to the ad was swift and brutal, and Pepsi, ostensibly, is smarting from the mockery and damage to its reputation before it begins to count the cost of pulling an expensively assembled global campaign after 24 hours. However, there is a silver lining of sorts. Some in the advertising industry think that the ad was deliberately created by Pepsi, the company playing some form of Machiavellian 4D chess. A creative at a well-known British agency who wished to remain anonymous told THR that "either the entire creative and marketing team at Pepsi didn't consider, even for one moment, that having a vacuous pseudo-famous white, rich, celebrity pretend to be in a protest march was a bad idea, or they figured the PR reach of it would be worth far more than any negative throwback."
Since the backlash broke, there have been thousands upon thousands of memes created and shared by millions all over the world, the kind of publicity and visibility that money can't buy. "There is a bit of 'no such thing as bad publicity' about this," said Middleton, adding, "I'm sure it won't actually do Pepsi huge harm in the long run. They're suddenly relevant. But that Pepsi would co-opt a complicated issue shows a stunning lack of foresight."