As you’re likely well aware, Pepsi’s latest campaign did not go as planned. Media previews hyped the spot, featuring supermodel Kendall Jenner, as the “2017 Answer to Cindy Crawford’s Iconic Ad”—a comparison that Jenner seemed to embrace in the leadup. Once the ad went live, however, the narrative quickly shifted: instead of a cool, classic, of-the-moment campaign, the public witnessed a desperate and clunky attempt to mine recent social movements for the soft-drink giant’s gain.
Using a bit of data from Spredfast, we took a look at how the sparks spread across Twitter and the media outlets reporting on the campaign.
Business As Usual
April 4th, 5am, EST: Pepsi’s campaign debuts, gleaning early praise from Kendall Jenner fan pages, especially those based in Thailand, where the ad was shot.
8:54am: CNBC kicks off a series of neutral-to-positive American media coverage including pieces from AdAge, V Magazine, and Time (which made heavy edits later on in the day). These articles mention the video’s use of protest imagery in relation to recent political uproar and how other brands have touched on the theme. The morning goes by with little fanfare, as outlets go through most of the morning avoiding criticism.
We… Might Have a Problem
11:15am: Fast Company mocks the ad based on the obvious appropriation of protest themes. The tweet itself wasn’t heavily shared, but it seems to have contributed to the building conversation on Twitter.
12:16pm: An hour later, Elle Magazine calls out the ad as “problematic,” as a storm quickly begins to brew on Twitter. In the next few hours, Harper’s Bazaar, UPROXX, and Fashionista.com follow Elle’s lead with pieces critical of the campaign. “Pepsi” was mentioned in tweets about 700 times per hour (based on Spredfast data).
3:47pm: Pepsi releases a statement to Teen Vogue explaining that the ad “...depicts various groups of people embracing a spontaneous moment, and showcasing Pepsi’s brand rallying cry to 'Live For Now,' in an exploration of what that truly means to live life unbounded, unfiltered and uninhibited.” Suffice to say, this wasn’t a satisfying response, and likely contributed to the pending avalanche of outrage.
Okay, Yes, Definitely a Problem
4:17pm: New York Magazine’s The Cut lights the dynamite laid by Elle and Fast Company, prompting even more Twitter activity. In the next hour, viral tweets from Jia Tolentino (The New Yorker), Jack Wagner (music video director), Joy-Ann Reid (MSNBC), Brandon Wardell (comedian), and Taryn Finley (Huffington Post) push the story into timelines across the country.
6:48pm: The story hits mainstream news outlets, when The Washington Post publishes a second-by-second breakdown of the “tone-deaf” ad. Over 68,000 tweets per hour mentioned Pepsi, with almost 7,000 in the 5 minutes between 9:15 and 9:20pm alone. The figure grows to 82,298 between 9 and 10pm.
Sorry, I’m Sorry, I’m Trying to Remove It
1:44pm: After what feels like years in internet-time, Pepsi pulls the campaign and releases a standard apology to the public and to Kendall Jenner. This sets off another wave of tweets, surpassing the prior day’s peak, with 83,000 “Pepsi” mentions between 2 and 3pm.
A Teachable Moment
While many of us understand the principle that social listening and active community management is important, moments like these are a reminder of why that’s so. If the issues with the ad were apparent to the public, it’s baffling that the ad made it through Pepsi’s internal creative agency and PR teams, focus groups, and other checks and balances. So when those efforts fail, social media managers must be able to speedily identify negative perception and work to mitigate fallout. To the Pepsi social team: I'd like to buy you a Coke.