When Saturday Night Live devotes an entire sketch to lampooning your new ad, it's a sign that you've messed up in a pretty heinous way. That was the fate that befell Diet Pepsi in April, when the company attracted widespread derision for an ad depicting supermodel and reality TV star Kendall Jenner joining an absurdly comprehensive line-up of diversely beautiful young people in a fake protest event.
The point of the march is vague; we see only slogans like "Join the conversation" and stylized CND symbols, but many saw in it unfavourable echoes of Black Lives Matter. And the ad ends with Jenner defusing tensions by offering a Diet Pepsi to a dishy police officer who, you know, just can't help enjoying the taste. Cut to cheering young people, and harmony among all nations, creeds, and genders. Slogan: "Live bolder."
The uproar of criticism and ridicule can perhaps be best encapsulated in a single tweet, written by the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., and accompanied by a photo of her father in a scene that's disturbingly similar to the Pepsi payoff. Bernice A. King tweeted: "If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi."
Disastrous, no? Embarrassing? Tone-deaf? Insensitive? On social media, it was hard to find anyone with a good word to say about the ad. So did sales plummet? Was the Pepsi reputation ruined? Was there an immediate hit where brands hurt most—in the bottom line?
Er, no. It's more likely the ad had a positive impact on brand awareness and purchase preference, according to Morning Consult: "In contrast to the social media furor, 44% of poll respondents said they had a more favorable view of Pepsi after watching the video, compared to a quarter who said it gave them a less favorable view. And 32% of Americans said the ad made them more likely to buy Pepsi products, versus 20% who were less likely."
Another recent so-called brand fail was the Burger Kind ad that triggered voice-activated Google Home devices to read out the Wikipedia entry about the Whopper. The Whopper's ingredient list was rapidly doctored in less than wholesome ways, and Google ended up blocking the ad. Another brand fail? Apparently not, as Burger King launched more versions of the ad, and in the process made itself the focus of lots of conversation, both online and offline, about the Internet of Things.
There aren't that many Google Home-enabled households out there yet. And maybe getting banned by Google got Burger King some cachet that tipped the sympathy vote its way. But the main thing was that the whole campaign gained lots of publicity.
Let's take one more so-called brand fiasco—the role of PwC in the mix-up of the Best Film announcement at this year's Oscars. "Experts say the lasting brand damage for the New York-based firm, the world's second largest by revenue, could be severe for a company that has built its reputation on accuracy," AdAge reported.
Dan Brotzel is content director and a co-founder of Sticky Content, a UK-based marketing content and creative agency. In 2013, it was acquired by the Press Association, the UK's national press agency, and operates as an autonomous brand within the PA family of companies.
LinkedIn: Dan Brotzel