Pepsi and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Ad
When headlines are referring to your TV spot as "one of the most reviled ads in recent memory" you know you've done something wrong. An avalanche of Twitter outrage buried the company in memes, eventually forcing Pepsi to pull it off the internet. It’s not worth picking this one apart (we’ll let others do that for us), but it speaks to a bigger issue (and trend) of brands shamelessly trying to leverage the current socio-political climate to sell a product. We saw the same kind of pandering during this year's Super Bowl ads (and later, parodied on SNL). Ultimately the moral of the story boils down to this:
- Any position your brand takes really needs to tie directly into your brand's core values. Otherwise you will probably be viewed as opportunistic.
- If you are going to put an issue front and center, you'd better do something to support that cause outside of "raising awareness" in your ad. (see: #PepsiCan)
It's true that more than ever, young consumers are supporting brands who take a firm moral stance and express a strong POV, but they also expect brands to walk the walk (see: Lyft, Starbucks). Trying to capitalize on an issue or inserting yourself into these conversations without actually doing anything is (rightfully) being called out as grossly opportunistic and can be far more damaging than saying nothing at all.
Burger King Invades Your Home
Annoying? Brilliant? Both? This week Burger king released an ad that very intentionally sets off viewers' Google Home devices—using the home assistant's magic words ("Okay, Google...") to trigger it into reading the first sentence of the Whopper's wikipedia page out loud. Adding another layer of digital savvy/trickery, it appears someone from BK's marketing team set this ad/stunt up by editing the Whopper's wikipedia page about a week ago:
"For almost a decade, Wikipedia’s page for the Whopper began with more or less the same... but last week, that first line... was changed to: 'The Whopper is a burger, consisting of a flame-grilled patty made with 100 percent beef with no preservatives or fillers, topped with sliced tomatoes, onions, lettuce, pickles, ketchup, and mayonnaise, served on a sesame-seed bun.' That certainly sounds like ad copy." –Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge
So, okay. Haha. Fun game, BK. You got us! Within a few hours, Google managed to block the ad from triggering Google Home devices (likely by blacklisting a specific waveform). And BK's little stunt came to an end. Right?
Nope. It turns out that's not the end of the story. BK actually managed to get AROUND the Google block, by creating a revised cut of the spot with altered audio, which aired on Kimmel and the Tonight Show and successfully triggered people's devices.
For what it's worth, I think Burger King deserves some credit for this. Aren't we always talking about finding ways to "be disruptive"? Sure, it bothered some people, but got a ton of attention and was one of the biggest marketing stories of the week.
That said, it does raise some serious ethical concerns—does this open Pandora's Box in terms of advertising stepping too far into our personal lives? I mean, we now know that a commercial has the ability to activate other technology in our homes. And that's kind of scary.
What’s Next for Snapchat?
"World Lenses" rolled out this week, which allows users to add bits of augmented reality to the physical space around you. It's certainly a fun toy, but it's not exactly a game changer. Especially considering that last week Mark Zuckerberg "announced he is confident his social network will take the lead in augmented reality."
"It’s going to take more than cute imagery to save the platform, say marketers... Instagram announced last week that its Stories has 40 million more users than Snapchat... And despite Snapchat’s new "Snap to Store" offering... marketers are still apprehensive about the app or are giving up on it entirely. To make matters worse: Just weeks after its IPO, parent company Snap’s stock is trading below its opening price." –Ilyse Liffreing, Campaign US
DigiDay and AdAge also ran insightful pieces that read like nails in the proverbial coffin. So while saying "Snapchat is doomed" might sound cynical or extreme, the narratives are certainly beginning to align in a way that does not suggest Snapchat is poised for long term success.
There we were, thinking Pepsi was locked and loaded for the "Worst Public Blunder of the Year" award. Then United Airlines showed up like Seabiscuit, valiantly galloping into the lead at the final hour. Like the Pepsi situation, it’s not necessary to recap the particulars—though it's certainly worth noting how far reaching this PR nightmare has become.
Combine this nasty incident with LeggingsGate 2017 and one too many scorpions and it's no surprise that the company's value has dropped by $200M. From a brand/marketing standpoint, (one of) the moral(s) of this story is pretty clear: PR is important. There are plenty of companies who do troublesome/horrible/evil things but manage to maintain control of the narrative (hope no one here is a huge fan of Nestlé chocolate...), and avoid such public outcry. Time and time again, United has shown that they cannot.