Many thoughts go through PR pros’ heads when we see a company commit a faux pas as bad as Pepsi’s recent gaffe:
· How did they not see the issue?
· What kind of statement will they release?
· How will their brand be affected?
I love it when social issues are addressed in commercials. A company’s use of its brand platform to give consumers a voice is a beautiful thing.
How can you do that, though, without creating a PR crisis for your brand? Follow four easy steps:
1. Stay in your lane.
There is no credo easier to remember. When trying to incorporate social issues into your marketing strategy, consider whether it is even possible to make it about your brand.
In Pepsi’s case, it is quite easy to incorporate the issue into their campaign, as the product is used by everyone everywhere—but they took it too far. When Kendall Jenner offered the Pepsi to a police officer as a peace offering, I cringed.
Social issues are complex and have multiple layers; Pepsi cannot fix them.
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My advice: if you’re going to use a protest to market your brand, keep it realistic. A last scene of a protester and a cop drinking identical cans could have symbolized common ground—a starting point—which might have been digested a little better.
2. Keep it authentic.
Consumers are becoming increasingly educated about the brands they align with. As their options increase, product value is not the only criterion they consider in making a purchase decision, making corporate responsibility more important than ever. To stay true to your consumers, stay true to your brand.
The authenticity in the Pepsi commercial was lost within two seconds. The inauthenticity was felt in every aspect of the commercial; the “social issue” was invented as a premise for the commercial.
My advice: If you want to insinuate your brand into a social issue, have cameramen attend a protest. Give participants your product, and ask whether you can take footage of them at the event. Celebrities attended the Women’s March in high numbers; Pepsi could have enlisted multiple celebrities, including members of the cast of “Orange is the New Black.” Documenting their involvement (and patronage) would have been epic.
You know who was not at the Women’s March? Kendall Jenner.
3. Consult your employees.
Consumers are regular people. They have real issues: finances, racism, discrimination, health. Top executives at an advertising firm seldom relate to regular middle-class people, as much as they might try. However, these top executives have a pool of regular, middle-class employees working for and with them.
My advice: Conceptualize your idea; then consult with your employees. Send a mock-up of the video or the storyline, and invite them to anonymously participate in giving feedback.
Why anonymously? Even if you create a focus group for internal employees to give their honest opinion to executives, you will not get it. If most people think their candor could cost them their job, they will not provide it. Anonymity allows employees to respond as real consumers.
4. In the event of a faux pas, apologize.
Pepsi’s apology came off sounding contrived, almost saying. “I’m sorry you all got offended by this” (Aren’t those half apologies the worst?) Then they went on to apologize to Jenner for hurting her brand.
Jenner is an adult with a public platform and millions of fans. She has more social responsibility than Pepsi. No one is responsible for her image, including a soft-drink maker.
My advice: Apologize to your consumers, not to your spokesperson. This tip is so simple.