You know about the already-infamous much-ridiculed Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial, in which a Caucasian-stock-photo beautiful young woman joins a lefty protest line, strikes the iconic pose of young black demonstrator Ieshia Evans face-to-face with a row of militarized police officers, and then releases a fount of peace and love by offering an officer a Pepsi.
You also know everything that is tragically and stupidly and absurdly wrong with that commercial.
But now, a former advertising agency VP – me – will tell you exactly how that unforgivable commercial got made. I should know. I’ve been in scores of those meetings and I’ve seen precisely how this jaw-dropping outcome unfolds a step at a time.
Here’s how it happens:
First, the ad agency’s account executive on the Pepsi business calls a meeting with the agency’s creatives. S/he explains that Pepsi’s marketing director wants to associate the brand with today’s younger demographic of social consciousness, but Pepsi also doesn’t want to blunder by coming down on one political side or the other. Trump voters and cops and Black Lives Matter protestors and liberal young people all buy Pepsi. The commercial has to honor the moment without losing any goodwill.
So the creative strategy – that’s the name for it in the industry – is to attach Pepsi to what people on all sides of America’s battle want: peace. Agreement about what’s good. Not having to fight any more. Having a moment where your ostensible enemy comes around to where you are. With a smile.
That’s the charge, declares the account executive. A detailed document spells out the specifics – demographics, media, emotional tone, product personality, budgeted length of message (in seconds), expense limits for production and paid media time – for the agency creatives.
Next, in a sleek, comfortably-outfitted corporate space hospitable to spontaneity, very smart and very clever people bounce ideas around until they land on a concept, which they hone into a rough treatment of a commercial, which makes its way through rounds of survival-of-the-fittest presentations until, climactically, it is shown to the client, Pepsi’s marketing director. The marketing director – maybe with a bellowed “Yes!!” or maybe with days of fretful hedging or maybe with caveats that revise the commercial – approves it. Kendall Jenner’s people are approached. She and they say yes. It’s produced. It goes on the air.
But what is crucial here is that all of the credentialed and talented players who have decisive power in this chain of events are bubbled, highly-paid hot shits who have no personal awareness whatsoever of what drives a young black woman to risk her life in the face of lethally-armed agents of the state.
That is how a stream of politically liberal, fabulously educated, well-intentioned professionals, including a celebrity, labored to make, approve, and air a commercial that defecated on the actual act of racial and political resistance.
It's the business.