From Coke’s flower power to Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad – how ads co-opt protest


It’s a unique skill to have #boycottpepsi trending among both the right and the left. It managed to alienate both sides of an increasingly polarised consumer universe,” says Nicola Kemp, trends editor at advertising trade magazine Campaign, who points out that the ad was made by an inhouse team at Pepsi, which may be why there is a sense that nobody thought to point out its deficiencies before it aired. Kemp argues that not only was the ad tone-deaf, it also failed to make any political point at all, co-opting the imagery, without taking a stand. “You get a lot of people saying we’re in a state of perpetual outrage, that brands should always be aware that taking a stand can create a backlash, and that it’s better to stand for something than for nothing. But in effect it did both: it stood for nothing, with these anodyne signs, and it still created a backlash.” What about the idea that all publicity is good publicity? “There is a growing conversation within marketing that outrage is a form of social currency, and that social currency equates to sales,” Kemp says. “But that is an overly simplistic point of view. I do think that, honestly, no brand would set out to create this sort of response.”

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