A public relations crisis is a nightmare situation that hits even the most prestigious and well-meaning businesses. For some businesses, it may be just a bump in the road, while for others it may be a sign of huge failure. If you are wondering whether something is a PR crisis or not, you need to know the answer to this question: Was it serious enough that it went beyond the PR or marketing team, and management and leadership were needed to get involved? If so, it warrants the title. This article particularly talks about PR crisis of Pepsi and how it responded to its PR controversy.
WHAT WAS THE CONTROVERSY?
Back in April 2017, PepsiCo. Inc., a U.S. based multinational food and Beverage Company launched a campaign called “Live for Now – Moments”. It was an extension to the “Live for Now” campaign that the company created in 2012. This campaign involved an ad named as “‘Jump In’ Pepsi Moments” with the purpose to initially reach millennials and “to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding,” as per PepsiCo statement. The advertisement showed protesters holding milquetoast signs with pleas like “Join the conversation” and they are uniformly smiling, laughing, clapping, hugging, high-fiving and among all this, the ad features a 21-year-old supermodel, Kendall Jenner. Many people criticized the ad for its insensitive approach and for what some viewers found it to be improperly executed for the desired message. In the ad, Jenner is shown as one who joins the protest and eventually approaches a cop, who is standing guard over the protestors with a can of Pepsi. The officer accepts the can and he takes a sip.
As soon as the ad went live, it drew scathing criticism on social media. Critics started blasting over PepsiCo and the advertisement. Entertainment Weekly called it “a tone-deaf attempt to co-opt a movement of political resistance” to increase its sales. Many Twitter users expressed disgust following the ad’s release. They claimed that the ad trivialized real-life protests where several people lost their lives fighting for an actual cause. Some users showed hatred towards Pepsi to make it look like the cure for all social problems. One sarcastically remarked, “I get it now. If black lives matter protesters would have handed a Pepsi to the cops they would not have gotten tear-gassed. It’s so clear now.” Many infuriated tweets were directed to the fact that Jenner was cast. This was because the ad seemed to pertain to the Black Lives Matter movement, for which the casting of Jenner seemed misguided. One of the users claimed, “The Kendall Jenner Pepsi fiasco is a perfect example of what happens when there are no black people in the room when decisions are being made.”
PEPSI’S CRISIS MANAGEMENT:
After Twitter exploded with nasty tweets and late-night comics poured on scorn, the brand did at least one thing right! It reacted quickly. Its reply was simple, sensible and honest.
Initially, the brand released a statement defending their campaign by saying, “This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that it is an important message to convey.” However, in less than 24 hours, the soda company had pulled the ad and paused the campaign then and there without considering its cost and the losses that might occur. Followed by a second statement it claimed that “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and we apologize.”
The point to be noted here is that the brand’s fast reaction was a timely reminder of the value of a sincere public apology. Companies shouldn’t need to be reminded. Instead, it should acknowledge its wrongdoings. Pepsi’s statement definitely struck the right notes.
In today’s news cycle an hour is like a week! Had the brand delayed its response in the hope that the furore might subside, it would have been quite late. A slower decision would only have prolonged the pain. Pepsi was smart enough to recognize that fact.
At no point, the brand was seen challenging those who criticized the advertisement. They never thought that people might be overreacting. The brand was responsible enough to not point fingers at anyone but their own team. Their statement even included an apology to Kendall Jenner, which was although unnecessary but gave a classy touch.
Admitted their mistake
At no point, Pepsi tried to salvage the advertisement or fight for it. It silently listened to its customers as well as its loudest critics and acknowledged its mistake. The statement clearly mentioned that they “missed the mark.” Other than the explanation about global unity, it simply confessed the error and promised to do better. In most cases, that’s what people wish to hear in order to cut you some slack.
Fixed the situation
In order to gain a good reputation, it is important to fix or solve a potentially damaging problem, or provide assurance to do so as quickly as possible. This is the toughest part of all because under some circumstances it may require a product recall, reformulation, or termination of a key executive. For Pepsi, the fix was expensive but highly doable.
The ad’s final Chiron slogan includes the line, “Live Bolder.” But the best and maybe the boldest thing Pepsi did was to make the decision to pull its multimillion-dollar commercial, cutting its losses and at the same time preserving the credibility to try again in the future.
As time passed, consumers did not significantly change their behaviour toward Pepsi. It was observed that respondents’ willingness to purchase Pepsi dropped from 56% to 55% immediately after Pepsi’s PR crisis. According to Kent Stones, (CEO at Stones Insight, an insights company in Redondo Beach, California), the reason for the minimal change is because Pepsi is considered as a lifestyle product and has a minimal financial effect on consumers. Consumers were rarely in situations where Pepsi’s products are so dramatically impacting their lives that any PR crisis will have a significant impact on their lifestyle and identity.
In the long run, Pepsi’s products did not have a significant impact on consumers as they go about their day-to-day lives. Of the 56% of survey respondents said that they would be willing to buy Pepsi today, 26% said that they have simply always bought Pepsi and the news coverage didn’t bother them at all. The other 30% said that though the commercial bothered them at first but, they have since moved on.
The ability for brands to recover from PR crises depends wholly on their pre-existing brand reputation. Pepsi didn’t experience a dramatic change in its consumer base because its customers are loyal. This allows Pepsi to move on from the PR crisis with ease.
A reputation is a delicate thing, which can take years to build up and mere moments to get spoilt. The way a company communicates with stakeholders and the general public during a crisis can be pivotal in determining whether it bounces back stronger than ever or is irrevocably tarnished by its response to the situation. Having a solid public relation strategy may prove to be the most reliable solution in repairing public image both in the short and long run.