Pepsi. The Choice of a Kardashian Generation

April 17, 2017

 

By the time you read this, I suspect that most of the hubbub surrounding Kendall Jenner’s foray into pimping Pepsi will have died down. Personally, I found it refreshing that a couple of whole news days were occupied by a scandal that didn’t include the words Russia, Trump, Rice, Putin, Nunes, or Flynn. It seems so quaint now, considering that Pepsigate was quickly eclipsed by nerve gas, Syria and cruise missiles. Still I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a lesson or two in here that we can apply in our daily lives.

 

Dumb. Insensitive. Tone deaf. Insulting. Clueless. Jenner’s Pepsi commercial has been called all of these and more, and deservedly so. Where I’m really struggling is trying to understand what reaction Pepsi was hoping for. The Pepsi execs watched this commercial and thought to themselves, when people finish watching this commercial, we want them to feel … and I can’t seem to fill in that blank to save my life. It’s that meaningless.

 

It reminds me of tech companies that litter their marketing materials with buzzwords just to appear current and modern. We have a Kardashian, check. We have good-looking, multi-cultural millennials, check. We have resistance (although to what we’ll never know), check. This commercial is gonna be epic!

 

This got me to wondering what ad agency was about to be fired by Pepsi. It turns out – and this didn’t surprise me a bit – that this fiasco was the handiwork of Pepsi’s internal marketing team. They decided to go the cheap DIY route and binge their whole budget on one of today’s favorite pretty faces while purging on substance.

 

Am I saying that all in-house marketing departments are bad? Of course not. I used to lead one and we did some damn good work. Yet I must acknowledge that some in-house marketing departments really stink. But it’s not their fault.

 

There’s a widespread perception among hirers of marketing people that anybody with half a brain can handle marketing. I’ve seen it at credit unions. I’ve seen it at technology companies. I’ve battled it my entire career. Sally’s pretty creative. Let’s put her in marketing. Bob can string two sentences together. Let’s have him write copy. Argh.

 

Guess what. Experience matters in marketing just as it does in any field. You wouldn’t make your HR director your CTO just because he’s a bright guy. You wouldn’t promote your branch manager to CFO just because she shreds at sudoku. And when it comes to pimping a big multi-national brand, even Pepsi can’t afford an in-house staff that’s up to the task. They proved that much already.

 

There’s a rule I live by (one of many, actually). Whether it’s marketing or technology or auto mechanics or carpentry or whatever, spend whatever you need to spend and let the experts do what they’re trained to do. Follow that rule and you won’t be the next Pepsi.

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