Pepsi’s Guide to Surviving Marketing Mishaps


When an ad campaign goes horribly wrong it can seem like the end of times. Will the brand recover? Will the audience forgive and forget? Remember that time Michael Jackson was burned while filming a 1984 Pepsi commercial? Yes? No? Well, maybe Pepsi is doing something right...

Pepsi’s most recent flub makes light of a protest march — think: giddy protesters smiling, embracing and high-fiving — while model Kendall Jenner is simultaneously doing a photoshoot. Jenner leaves the shoot, joins the tribe of happy marchers and happily presents a police officer with a can of Pepsi. Everyone is overjoyed and Pepsi saves the day. Right?

Not quite.

Some crazy ideas work, but folks were not impressed by this now-dumped ad. If Pepsi was trying to evoke the joy we felt after seeing this boy hand out water bottles to officers in Baltimore back in 2015, they fell short. The good news for Pepsi is that the company has survived blunders before and it seems the cola giant will move along just as well from the now infamous Jenner ad.

But just how does Pepsi continue to survive?

Listen Up 

Brands like to get people talking. Whether positive or negative, there’s no such thing as bad publicity! Pepsi could have told people who didn’t like the Jenner ad simply not to watch it; turn the other cheek as they say. Rather, the feedback was taken into consideration and it was determined the ad would be pulled. This doesn’t mean that all brands should automatically cave with the first sign of outrage, but Pepsi had to think fast — and smart. When even Martin Luther King Jr's daughter calls you out, you listen.

It’s important for companies to take a step back from their own brand bubbles and realize the bigger impact of what they’re putting out to consumers. Sometimes a message can get lost in translation — quite literally.

When Pepsi launched in China, the company used the slogan, “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life.” Seems harmless. The only problem was, due to improper translation, natives were quick to point out that it really said: “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” Not a great message, especially given how much the Chinese culture values ancestry. When mistakes are made, Pepsi listens to the feedback and takes the appropriate action - whether it’s changing text, or ultimately pulling an ad.

Take Responsibility

The best way to forge a path to forgiveness is by taking responsibility for your actions. In a statement regarding the Jenner ad, Pepsi admitted to missing the mark. “We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout.” The statement ends with an apology to Kendall Jenner as well.

Brands would be remiss to ignore feedback and feign ignorance. Especially when you’re dealing with an audience as massive as Pepsi’s.

In 1992, Pepsi had to take responsibility for an awful campaign gaffe in the Philippines after launching “The Number Fever” where drink caps were imprinted with a 3-digit number. This number held the potential for winning up to 1 million pesos. Sales shot up and folks were excited, but Pepsi mistakenly printed 800,000 caps with the winning number. Talk about an oops! People were outraged, some even resorting to violence, after being told by Pepsi that the “winning” caps didn’t contain the correct security code. Pepsi ended up paying $12 million total to cap-holders as a "goodwill gesture."

Move Forward

Though it may seem impossible, sulking after a marketing mishap is not productive. Companies must move forward in an attempt to clear the air. Pepsi’s mentions have skyrocketed since the latest debacle — up 7,000% according to social media analytics company Brandwatch — and it’s time to spin this misstep and all of the accompanying attention into something positive.

Back in 2012, Pepsi’s team won awards for its "Liter of Light” campaign in - you guessed it - the Philippines. The company brought together over 10,000 volunteers to install 30,000 bottle lights made from recycled soft drink bottles. See? There can be light at the end of a so-called marketing disaster!

We can all take a page from Pepsi’s book in times of crisis. With every problem comes valuable insight, ultimately helping you to move forward with greater integrity and renewed passion. Take those marketing mishaps and turn them into opportunities for success moving forward.

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