Last week, Pepsi yanked a new TV commercial the day after it launched featuring Kendall Jenner, a well-known model. She leaves in the middle of a photo shoot to join a ‘protest march’ and, as the multicultural crowd is confronted by a barricade of police, she boldly walks up to a stern-faced officer and hands him a Pepsi. He smiles and the crowd erupts in celebration and applause.
The quality of the commercial was outstanding and undoubtedly cost millions to make. Given the backlash, what’s the cost to Pepsi’s brand, in the African-American community and those who are aligned with them, especially in the world of social media. Shortly after the commercial was released, the daughter of Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King tweeted, “If only daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” Ouch!
Kudos to Pepsi for reacting so quickly! Even a D&I mature company like Pepsi can make a mistake, but rather than deny, make excuses or blame someone else, they just said, “We apologize. We missed the mark.” Hopefully, their actions will serve as a teachable moment for others.
We need companies like Pepsi to continue doing all they can with their global platform to increase awareness and inspire their consumers to embrace differences. Here are some ‘diversity-related questions/actions’ that might have prevented this costly, unfortunate situation:
- While still in the conceptual stage ask: “Could this commercial be viewed unfavorably by some of our diverse customers/consumers, especially in light of protest marches that have occurred over the last three years?
- Did anyone who viewed it before it aired ask how might those involved or aligned with Black Lives Matter perceive it?
- Since the protesters in the commercial reflected a multicultural group, were any people of color considered to be the ‘star’ of this ad? Was Kendall Jenner the best person to portray the intended message?
- How diverse was the team that created this commercial? Not just in terms of race/ethnicity – but also age, gender, role and responsibilities at Pepsi?
- Did Pepsi engage their African American Employee/Business Resource Group to view the commercial and provide candid feedback before it aired?
Most organizations that are relatively mature in their Diversity and Inclusion journey proactively sponsor Employee Resource or Business Resource Groups. These groups can provide different perspectives on policies and benefits, new product or service ideas, as well as targeted marketing strategies and advertising campaigns. In this situation, the reactions internally and externally could have been, “Nailed it!” Rather than “Whoops, we missed the mark.”