Pepsi blunder is proof marketers ‘live in a fantasyland disassociated from the real world’

Chasing trends and allowing 'amateurs' to produce your advertising is like giving a 16-year-old a medical marijuana card and the keys to the Lexus, argues Bob Hoffman

Last week’s Pepsi disaster may go down as one of the great advertising debacles of our age. The spot in question only lived for about 24 hours, but it has been hailed by some as the worst commercial in the history of advertising.

This has engendered great joy in certain quarters – including yours truly. The reason for the widespread schadenfreude is that the man behind this travesty – president of the Pepsi beverage group, Brad Jakeman – has been very openly critical of ad agencies.

Jakeman was quoted as saying it was “absolutely baffling” that the large advertising holding companies are not “buying up all of these incredible content” producers.

So Jakeman went ahead with great fanfare and created his own ‘content’ playpen which he modestly named ‘Creators League Studio’. He bills himself as the head of this studio. His ‘studio’ created this monstrosity.

I can’t prove it, but the spot in question has the smell of a Jakeman vanity project all over it. It is the kind of cliché-festooned work that a talent-free amateur playing at creative director might concoct.

This is not to say that agencies can’t produce stinkers  – I’ve certainly written my share – but the size of this one coupled with the chest-pounding of the guy in charge makes it particularly amusing.

Bob Hoffman

There are some lessons to be learned from this…

First, allowing amateurs to produce your advertising is like giving a 16-year-old a medical marijuana card and the keys to the Lexus.

Second, trend-chasing is a dangerous business. Pepsi has been doing this for years with nothing to show for it but failure. They have demonstrated no ability to fashion a coherent brand strategy. All they do is jump from one fad to another. Their marketing strategy can be described in two words – ‘whatever’s trending’.

Third, what you say is different from what you communicate. Good marketing people understand this. Bad ones don’t. Pepsi thought they were saying that they’re a hip, sensitive, and concerned brand. What they communicated was that they are shameless, clueless opportunists.

Next, ‘content’ is usually just a pleasanter word for ‘shit’.

Finally, the internet has a mind of its own. Thinking you can outsmart the web and go “viral” is a game for fools. When web maniacs ‘join the conversation’ it is mostly to bury brands, not to praise them.

Pepsi’s blunder is just more proof that many marketers live in a fantasyland that is disassociated from the real world. One might say marketers are from Mars, consumers are from New Jersey… hey, wait a minute…isn’t that the title of a book I wrote…?

How idiots think about marketing

If you’re wondering how a company can get things so wrong, all you have to do is listen to Pepsi’s chief design officer.

Here’s what he had to say two weeks ago: “People, therefore, are different. They behave in a different way with our products and brands. They don’t buy, actually, products anymore, they buy experiences that are meaningful to them, they buy solutions that are realistic, that transcend the product, that go beyond the product, and mostly they buy stories that need to be authentic.”

Yeah, right. Back to Mars, Bozo..

Bob Hoffman has been the CEO of two independent agencies and is the author of the Ad Contrarian blog


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