But the secret to avoiding Pepsi and Nivea’s ad controversy is simple, experts say
Not all publicity is good publicity, as Pepsi and Nivea are learning this week.
Both companies are suffering the wrath of social media over racially insensitive advertisements.
Kendall Jenner’s new Pepsi spot fizzled faster than you can say “Kardashian” on Tuesday. The clip shows the model joining a protest and easing tensions with police by offering one officer a Pepsi.
Twitter called out the tone-deaf commercial for making light of the Black Lives Matter movement by turning a protest into a parade, and fighting social injustice with soft drinks. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter Bernice A. King chimed in by tweeting a powerful snapshot of her late father protesting, with the caption, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 5, 2017
can you believe kendall jenner solved all the black lives matter issues by giving a pepsi to a cop? inspiring.
— Danii G (@gerbatron) April 4, 2017
Pepsi pulled the ad on Wednesday and responded in a statement that read, “This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.” It also apologized for “putting Kendall Jenner in this position.” But customers weren’t buying it.
— tb (@__icyhot) April 5, 2017
— Candis McLean (@CandisRMcLean) April 4, 2017
Nivea is also in hot water for its own controversial deodorant post on Twitter and Facebook this week, which literally featured the phrase “White is purity.” It also included the words, “Keep it clean, keep bright. Don’t let anything ruin it,” as part of the ad.
White is purity??? Seriously? Ugh. No more purchasing #Nivea for me.
— Lisa (@Amazonbirdy) April 5, 2017
— georgia (@georgiagraphs) April 5, 2017
“We are deeply sorry to anyone who may take offense to this specific post,” the company responded in a statement after pulling the offensive campaign. “Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of Nivea.”
How are so many offensive ads getting the greenlight? It’s gotten so bad that Google has implemented new software for its ad placement computers to flag racist content, objectionable material and terrorist propaganda.
“It goes back to cultural blindspots,” Sakita Holley, public relations strategist and CEO of House of Success PR, explained to Moneyish. “When you are coming up with concepts and ideas, you are in a room using your experience, your worldview, your perspective. And a lot of times these rooms are very homogeneous; traditionally everyone looks the same and comes from the same background, and sometimes nobody catches that there’s something wrong with saying, ‘White is pure,’ even when you’re just talking about deodorant.”
She added that when people are working on a bunch of different campaigns at once, and without a diverse team, it can be easy for these inadvertently offensive ads or taglines to slip through.
“The main thing is is to look at your team. Are your consumers completely represented?” she suggested. “If not, go outside of that room, go elsewhere in the company, and ask other people, ‘Is this bad? Is this offensive?’ But that’s not the protocol now. Usually it’s the executives who sign off on everything.”
Another problem is that companies feel so pressured to churn out buzzworthy commercials so quickly that there’s less time to check whether they’re sending the right message, or working with the best celebrity to send that message.
— Deondre Moore (@DeondreBMoore) April 5, 2017
“One of the biggest challenges companies are having with new media is how to satisfy the thirst for immediate content, and moving faster to stay ahead of the curve,” said celebrity and influencer marketing expert Mark Zablow from Cogent Entertainment. “Unfortunately, the pressure is on to deliver content so fast that it doesn’t always leave room for proper vetting. And the problem is getting worse.”
Offensive advertisements aren’t new, but social media is making consumers more sensitive to cultural nuances. It also gives them a voice to let companies know when they mess up, which is another reason why we seem to be reading about controversial campaigns more and more. Fortunately, companies often take social media backlash very seriously, so empowered shoppers can help keep businesses in check with their phones, tablets and keyboards.
“The brands that want to be around for a long time, they will take the social media response into consideration for their next campaign or content meeting, and they will filter [ideas] through that human lens and say, ‘Let’s make sure we don’t make the same mistake again,’” Holley said.
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