Avoid A Disastrous Pepsi Marketing Moment


In all marketing, we face the challenge of how we make our business stand out.  Pepsi has a great example of how not to promote your product or service and an amazing example of how to do it.

The difference is in the story.

How to avoid a Pepsi moment

Remember the Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial?  

This is the one that Pepsi pulled almost as quickly as they released it.  Of course, these days your mistakes live on, and the ad has millions of views and is readily available on Youtube. 

There is no escape. 

AND… here it is:

They got the story wrong

The ad was universally derided as a tone-deaf, trite piece of work. 

White 21-year-old model Kendall Jenner takes the lead in a black lives matter protest and saves the day with a can of Pepsi.


The biggest problem is that when you watch this commercial, you cringe. 

It feels wrong.  It feels, well, tone-deaf and trite.  Not precisely the most inspiring brand moment. 

But why? 

The problem is the story. 

To connect with your prospects and tell a good brand story, the audience needs to be the hero, the brand helps, supports and assists, but the audience is the real hero.

In this commercial, the hero is Kendall Jenner armed with a Pepsi, and that doesn’t sit well.  

The attempt seems to be for Jenner to function as the hero representing us, the audience.  

But for that to happen, we’d have to be able to connect with her and relate to her transformation. 

She transforms from a blond supermodel in a dress to a to brunette supermodel in jeans. 

She goes from partying with the camera to dancing her way to leading the protest on the street.

She saves the day by giving the police a can of Pepsi. 

None of this is in any way relatable.  Worse, it feels like a trivialization of core issues: solve race relations with a model and a Pepsi?  

Not likely.  

Compare this to the iconic Pepsi Challenge commercials of the 1980’s.  

In these ads, the consumer was the hero, “normal people” on the street chose Pepsi or Coke in a blind taste test.  

A little clever editing and everybody picks Pepsi and has a big party. 


We, the audience, can instantly relate to regular people coming out of the supermarket as well as the regular guy conducting the tests.  

We feel the transformation from not even realizing Pepsi was a contender to preferring Pepsi over Coke. 

This is a powerful, inclusive message. 

Even if your marketing doesn’t include supermodels and national television ad campaigns there are vital lessons here:

Make sure your audience is the hero of your brand and enroll them in the heroism.  

If you do nothing else ensure that your audience is the hero and you are the mentor.  You enable your market to thrive, to do better, to have a more meaningful life and you use your story to enroll your audience in their heroism.

Kendall Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi and leading a protest is not enrolling, it celebrates her and Pepsi, not us. 

On the other hand, being able to select a better soda when shopping for the family is enrolling.  It may be just a can of soda but I can make a better decision and be part of those in the know. 


Define the meaningful Challenge you Address.

Pepsi is not the key to solving race relations.  It is a sugary drink.  The challenge it addresses is a craving for taste, sugar and (maybe) quenching thirst. 

This can extend to helping me connect with people through sharing a Pepsi Moment (Dos Equis does this well with the Most Interesting Man), or being cool because I know that Pepsi is better than Coke.

There are infinite ways to play with this theme and define a meaningful problem, do that. 

Create transformation that the audience can believe in and relate to.

There is tremendous power in transformation.  When your main character realizes something and emerges in a different space, the audience experiences that transformation.  They go along with it. They feel it. 

That was the attempt by Jenner, taking off her wig and abandoning her photo shoot.  But it is incomplete and unrealistic.  It doesn’t feel like she has genuinely changed anything.

Regardless it isn’t a transformation that most of us can relate to or believe in; Choosing one soda over another?  Well, we get that. 

The Jenner commercial grated its audience because Pepsi failed to think through their story and became overly obsessed with being the "good guy."  

You don't have to make that mistake.  Instead, craft a story that engages and attracts your audience.  

Make the audience the hero and help them solve a problem they face.  Doing so will help your business stand out and it could be the difference between iconic success and a tragic disaster.  

CasesJeff LoehrComment