The Kool-Aid was strong at Pepsi

  • Regular voices
  • April 13, 2017
  • Damon Stapleton
The Kool-Aid was strong at Pepsi

"All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure."
– Mark Twain

It would seem I was beaten to writing about the new Pepsi commercial by about 6 million people. Perhaps that is a good thing. It gave me time to think and look at what everybody has been saying over the last 72 hours. Although for those involved with this commercial it has probably felt far longer.

Now, just about every angle on what is wrong with this commercial has been covered on blogs around the world. There has been much schadenfreude about the fact that it was done by an in-house agency. The narrative is that because it was done in-house there was a lack of perspective. Now, judging by the press release everybody thought they were onto a winner. Nobody internally thought it was offensive.  So, perhaps there is some truth to that. It would seem to me that very few difficult conversations about the concept were had. The Kool-aid had been drunk. Could this have happened in a good, creative advertising agency? Probably. But, the chances would have been far less because the creative voice would have been far stronger. And it would have been far stronger because creatives would have had an issue with the idea and most importantly the context. There would have been push-back. However, getting to a commercial like this is far easier than you would think.

I have been in situations like this where an alternative perspective gets squashed because the big boys in the room have decided. I have also experienced meetings where some have believed their product by its sheer magnificent existence will change the world. That kind of environment creates nodding and squashes nuance and subtlety. Two qualities that might have saved this commercial.

But even still, on paper, this commercial would have had a lot going for it. They had a big budget. Tick. They had loads of data about their audience. Tick. They could have the highest production values. Tick. A celebrity and a great track. Tick. So they have a great ad, right?

Wrong.

Like I said, the commercial had a lot going for it but there are two things it didn’t have. Friction and an idea. This commercial is what keeps us creative directors up at night. It’s what gives us nightmares so terrifying we go on to develop an addiction to sleeping tablets just so the bad dreams go away. For a while.

Let me explain.

Firstly friction. Every creative director looking at this will know there were no small battles. And if there were, the creatives didn’t win any. Great commercials happen because of many discussions and decisions. The conversation probably went like this. Do we need a celebrity? Yes. Should we really go anywhere near protesting? Yes. Do we really need to start with the cello player on the roof? Yes. Do we really need a cello player? Yes. Does he really have to have a massive Pepsi bluecCello case? Yes. Is it weird that there is a fashion shoot right next to a massive protest? No. I could go on.

Yep. You can feel this baby was locked and loaded. They were working to a formula. A series of modern cliches which seem strangely dated. The consequence is there is no humanity or authenticity which ultimately means no connection. Instead of capturing the zeitgeist it gives us a parody of it.

Having friction, however, is only useful if you have an idea. And fundamentally, there isn’t one anywhere near the blast zone of this commercial.

I think this is what angers the creative community more than anything. For the last couple of years, creativity has become this strange thing at the end of the line. Something we will do after all the important stuff. There is also the erroneous and financially driven belief that anybody can do it. We will just get some ideas from the idea factory, right?

I have often said these days the industry thinks the picture frame is more important than the picture. This ad is a perfect example of that.

Creativity, craft but most importantly concept have not been given the respect they deserve.

What this ad proves is that you can have all the money, the data and the insight, even the audience and still make a bad ad.

The simple reason for that is many arrogantly think they just need the ingredients to do it all.

The Pepsi ad proves you may also need a chef.

And, probably one who doesn’t work in your restaurant.

  • This piece originally appeared on Damon Stapleton's blog, Damon's Brain.    

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