“You aren’t advertising to a standing army; you are advertising to a moving parade.”
“You cannot use someone else’s fire; you can only use your own.
And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe you have it.”
“There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”
H. L. Mencken
This is about the Pepsi fake revolution, fake protest , fake celebrity, misguided brand image advertisement <which I will inevitably call “the Frankenstein social issue” ad>.
While I had been shaking my head over the ad when I saw it I wasn’t going to write anything until there was a really nice article in The Atlantic, “how does an ad like this get approved?” which does a fairly nice job of walking everyone through some of the backroom pretzel logic steps an advertisement like this goes through to actually end up on air.
After reading the article I felt I needed to paint on a coat of some advertising development wacky reality because it neglected to share some of the more obscure things which most likely happened.
To be clear.
I could write a 10,000 word diatribe on how this Pepsi ad was a misguided use of a celebrity, a misguided hijacking of a social event, a misguided use of casting and a misguided tone overall for trying to tie image advertising for a brand with a social revolution <tied to a political issue> … but I will not. Suffice it to say that the ad itself is certainly a mashup of bad ideas … a Frankenstein … but even Frankensteins need to be built <they are not just born> and … believe it or not … there will be some specific things that will happen along the development path which can appear as ‘good business protocol’ but in reality is simply bad laboratory technique.
Before I skewer Pepsi and their in-house creative group let me suggest a shitload more of the larger companies are going to be faced with this possibility <of developing a misguided socially issue driven ad> sooner rather than later.
I have always believed a company, if it has a strong mission centered on some societal moral compass construct, should be sharing it in some form or fashion <it doesn’t have to be in-your-face> in its external marketing & advertising.
I now believe, in the age of Trumpism, it is almost a societal imperative for companies & brands to take a stand publicly. And I say that not suggesting they stop selling shit but rather they sell shit through a societal view lens. I do believe more than ever companies who stand for something should publicly stand up for that something.
And I don’t really care whether it is a liberal or conservative lens … a business should just elegantly articulate their view in the construct of what you sell and who you are. Society is almost demanding the debate & discussion and no one is better to have it publicly, in a civil discourse versus the coarseness found within Trumpology, than businesses.
Saying that … I give Pepsi points for at least making the attempt. I take points away because … well … a brand & company as large as Pepsi with access to so much creative & strategic talent should have made a better attempt.
But you know what?
Even in their bad they did some good … we talked about standing up for shit and how you should, or should not, stand up for shit.
Rather than beat the shit out of Pepsi for this attempt I will hold my fire until we see the next attempt and see if they learned something.
I would suggest everyone try and do that.
As for how and why ads like this get approved.
The article suggested this:
“How do these ads get approved?
By brand managers who are not doing their cultural homework—relying upon surface-level understandings of the cultural phenomenon they are featuring in their marketing communications and not understanding the deep well of emotions, identity politics, and ideologies that their ads will trigger.”
Jill Avery, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School
If it were only this black & white, I could solve this.
It is much more absurdly complicated in order to actually approve and produce something this so brutally off target.
Suffice it to say that the issue will encompass a spectrum of things … there will be a spectrum of misguided ‘execution strategy’ combined with some absurd “brand imperatives” all wrapped up in a nice snug outfit made up of stubborn edgy creative people, old white executives out of touch with their target audience, brand managers adverse to risk but an unhealthy desire to be cooler than they are and company visionaries who view cultural trends through what is cool rather than what is truly trendworthy.
This is a Frankenstein social issue “brand” ad created by a brand built on … well … no real social issues … but rather it is representative of a vapid brand which has convinced itself <at least some time in the past> it was more like a ‘fashion brand.’
Of course I should take a minute and discuss the research which “must have been done” to create this ad.
If there really was any research done we need to remind ourselves this is a ‘fashion brand’ <or someone has convinced them they should think of themselves as fashion brand … which is stupid> created on some vapid imagey type attributes therefore their research is mostly based on some vapid feel-good “cool” cultural benchmarks.
I could have set them up with some research company who could have measured what needed to be measured but <a> they don’t want that kind of truth and <b> someone smarter than I was yelling “how could we measure new information … we need to see results which can be compared to what we have so we can also see some ‘post’ numbers.”
Well. That yeller was yelling some well-intended truth but misguided in this case.
In larger companies it is always <always> gobs of “pre” information which you pour over and then setting up a ‘post analysis’ against the pre-stuff. This assumes the “pre” is meaningful and on target and that the ‘post’ is really what matters.
Assume makes an ass out of you and me.
Status quo is a sonuvabitch.
That is mostly research they would have used to inform the development.
To be clear.
I don’t think they did any ‘pre’ research. I think they “saw” a cultural movement within their supposed target audience and decided “I want to connect with them <so someone go do an ad to do that>.”
If any of this past ‘pre’ research was used it was simply to highlight the aspects that supported the idea they wanted to do <I feel comfortable saying that because I have done just that … cherry picking the “pre” information to highlight the reason why an idea is something worth pursuing and even highlighting some of the first components you may want to start building your Frankenstein with … uhm … any advertising person with half a brain has done this>.
Let’s assume they did some research on the ad itself <which is different than research informing the development of the ad>.
Someone probably set up some high falutin’ research methodology tracking watcher response second by second and checked scores against industry norms <or their own imagey crappy stuff they have done in the past> and the final power point was 30 pages long <with maybe 12 pages of backup graphs> and the printed binder they handed out to a select few to bludgeon themselves with at a later date was probably 80 pages <with nice colored tabs>.
Here is the net of all that stuff.
The celebrity drove up ‘breakthrough’, recall and ‘brand interest’ <albeit they hid the numbers that said the celebrity did not build credibility or authenticity>.
And, yeah, I would also bet someone probably dug up a nice score on “unique from competition.”
And I also bet they figured out a way to get a score worth showing <you never show bad numbers unless you can convince everyone that the bad number is actually a good number … yeah … we do that> to suggest the overall message was topical and that their audience related to the importance of “standing up and speaking out.”
And I would also bet that they didn’t have a particularly good, nor bad, likeability score … just something that didn’t deter them from this path.
And, lastly, I would bet they rummaged through any research they had to seal the deal on what I believe is possibly the worst part of the ad <having the celebrity leave being a celebrity and join the ‘common folk’>. They found a number that suggested “this shows that this issue is SO important that everyone, celebrities and fantastic looking poor folk included, shed their exterior Life and gather together to stand up an speak out.”
I added this last thought and call it out because … well … this is about the only thing that could have been said in the final presentation to the old white men, out of touch with their everyday customer, to gain final approval.
And let me say about the test scores I just highlighted … this is where testing fails people. It’s just numbers. And it’s just not real world.
The numbers don’t match the eye/sniff test.
And in a real world <on tv> environment the ad is annoying to anyone who actually wanted to participate in the movement or did participate … and the ad is generally unmemorable <and doesn’t even come close to capturing any aspect of ‘soul’ of Pepsi … assuming they have one>.
In testing it may seem fun and hip and upbeat but on tv it is annoying and bland and soulless.
By the way … I tossed in the word “soul” in that discussion.
I bring it up to make a point to any and all vapid brands out there thinking about actually taking on a social issue & message.
“Cool” doesn’t hack it if you want to be a fabric of society <which is different than a fabric of culture>. Weaving your way into the fabric of society demands you share a little bit of your soul … your heart … so that people can connect.
That’s not vapid. That’s some solid unforgiving truth telling about yourself.
That’s the price <and Pepsi was not willing to pay it>.
How does this get approved?
Well. Let me spend a minute on image advertising and creative people.
Vapid fashion brands far too often forget they are selling shit to people. Most times they will just say “that’s the job of promotions” or “that is point of sale efforts and we are supposed to drive people to the point of sale” or “our job is to be cool so that people want us so badly they will drive through … well … neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Uhm. On rare occasions, maybe a new i-phone, you can inspire that kind of ‘urgent desire to buy’ but in most cases it is just a 6-pack of Pepsi.
Creative people are stubborn people in their everyday work life. The non-hacks … the good talented smart creative people, mostly in good ways, stubbornly & aggressively hold on to creative edges <not just to be edgy but rather to insure there is some edge to what is done>. This gets dialed up in image advertising campaigns because for some reason as soon as a creative person hears “image” <or “brand”> they immediately think “vapid” <I don’t have to sell anything, communicate anything specific and the objective is to create an overall sense that what I am saying is good and the brand is some good shit>.
Triple the intensity with regard to everything I just said for creative hacks <or almost all non-agency advertising people> and add in they confuse ‘creative edges’ with ‘edgy’.
If you are attempting to do an image advertisement you are only partially challenged <fucked> with good creative people and absolutely screwed <fucked> with bad creative people.
How does something like this get approved?
With an ad like this, which I assume was polarizing in its final stages, there is always “someone.”
Someone who stands up and says ‘here is why.” Someone to stand up and speak out that bullshit line I just shared with you … “this ad shows that this issue is SO important that everyone, celebrities and fantastic looking poor folk included, shed their exterior Life and gather together to stand up an speak out.”
There is always ‘someone’ in that frickin’ final approval room, usually someone who shouldn’t have that kind of power, who the old white advertising-clueless men will look to in their moment of doubt on whether it is the right thing to do.
In the advertising business you cultivate this ‘someone’ so that they can bring you home <even if you have a bad misguided idea>. Suffice it to say on an ad like this there will be someone at Pepsi right now who is squirming and most likely getting ready to point a finger at some research person for either <a> not giving the right piece of information or <b> not asking the right kind of question.
I feel sorry for companies who truly do want to start doing image advertising and stay within their brand character and navigate the internal politics and … well … it is nothing they have done before.
There are rarely, very rarely, neat & plausible solutions to what a business faces in the here & now on this topic <and if someone tells you there is … they are lying>.
If you are shown a ‘formula for success’ and it looks neat and it seem plausible … it is most likely wrong.
That isn’t to say someone like me, or someone with smarts, experience and more talented than I, couldn’t guide a company down a viable path to success … just that there is no formula.
What I am now going to say is going to sound painfully inefficient.
A business has to create its own way of doing things. It can certainly contain some aspects of things that have been done in the past but those are simply ingredients from which you will build your own formula.
And, to be clear, if you start bolting together different formulas to create a successful business advertising idea … you are simply creating a Frankenstein which the village people are going to end up killing with simple pitchforks & torches <see Pepsi as an example>.
Your business formula for success will have to be yours.
In the end I would say this.
My guess is that Pepsi tried using a formula for something that is most likely really different than things they have tried in the past.
And while the difference between brutal and brilliant is a relatively thin line even for the people who do this for a living … you can teeter even more when attempting to enter into the fabric of a societal issue.
This ad was horrible.
But please don’t forget … Pepsi tried. They made the attempt.
In a Trumpenstein world in which being silent will only let the monster tear the village apart they spoke out. They stood up.
The villagers tore them apart.
But maybe, just maybe, the villagers should pick them up, dust them off, and say go try again … because the Trumpenstein is coming … and we can use any voice we can.
“You cannot paint the Mona Lisa by assigning one dab each to a thousand painters.”