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The spectacular implosion of Pepsi’s in-house Kendall Jenner ad could mark a win for agencies

Pepsi quickly pulled its spot featuring Kendall Jenner.

Pepsi quickly pulled Kendall Jenner’s Jump In ad Wednesday (April 5) after complaints the spot appropriated the Black Lives Matter movement for commercial gain.

In a press release announcing the campaign the day before, Pepsi said the ad, which was produced by in-house content creation team Creators League Studio, “takes a more progressive approach to truly reflect today's generation and what living for now looks like.”

However a subsequent statement issued after the outcry went on to say:

Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.

The internet disagreed. According to social media analytics firm Brandwatch, day-over-day social mentions of Pepsi were up by nearly 7,500% between April 3 and 4 – and the sentiment was particularly negative.

This included commentary from minister Bernice King, the youngest child of civil rights leader Martin Luther King:

And, some say, the spectacular implosion of this tone-deaf, in-house ad could mark a win for the agency model. Below was the social media response of Lucky Generals founding partner Andy Nairn, who highlighted the outside perspective agencies can bring to a campaign.

“Brands often suffer from myopia when trying to articulate their own value to the marketplace,” said Jason Snyder, chief technology officer, of brand experience agency Momentum Worldwide. “I like to think of a brand as a metaphor for a story. Being the story and telling the story at the same time is rarely a successful combination. A good agency will provide objective examination, done with real rigor, of how, where, why and when to tell a brand story. And that is a very valuable thing."

However, Matthew Quint, director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership at the Columbia Business School, warned against using this singular example to imply in-house agency models don’t work. And that’s in-part because every creative person screws up now and again.

“When ads created by agencies are a bit tone deaf, as this Pepsi ad is, no one attacks the advertising agency model as a failure,” he added. “It’s not like brands can go to agencies and they’re perfect and never make mistakes.”

Per Quint, the movement toward more in-house creative is a relatively new phenomenon driven by the speed at which they can produce original content, as well as the breadth of those original content needs, particularly on social.

As a result, Quint said he thinks Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner debacle will instead serve as a case study within an ongoing debate about finding the right balance between in-house creative and outside agencies.

“It’s a case study reminder of the importance of looking at outside voices and opinions on what your creative is,” Quint said. “It doesn’t mean you have to go to agencies, but you should do some focus group testing before the launch.”

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Lisa Lacy

Lisa Lacy is a senior reporter for The Drum, covering digital and search marketing. Based in New York, she writes about how brands use technology to connect with consumers, particularly as innovations like voice search, digital assistants and the Internet of Things change consumers’ lives forever – not to mention the data these platforms increasingly collect and the security and privacy issues therein. She is a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism. Her bucket list includes riding in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

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