Commentary

Pepsi Does Not 'Score' With #Apologyfail

Pepsi

No wonder there's been a backlash to PepsiCo's "apology" for the iPhone app promoting its Amp Energy drink that promises to help men "score" with different types of women by offering pick-up lines and the ability to track conquests.

Responding to the deluge of criticism the app has drawn for being sexist and stereotyping women, Amp and Pepsi issued a mea culpa via Twitter, reading "Our app tried to show the humorous lengths guys go 2 to pick up women. We apologize if it's in bad taste & appreciate your feedback."

The company also attached the #pepsifail hashtag to the tweet, inviting further reaction. At the same time, a PepsiCo spokesperson noted the app is available only to those 17 and up and indicated the company has no plans to pull the app over the controversy it's generated.

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So, what's the company apologizing for on Twitter? The whole idea of campaigns designed to appeal to the young-guy audience they target is to revel in bad taste and encourage crude behavior--to celebrate the frat-boy within.

And if they generates some controversy -- just enough to boost wider awareness but not necessarily torpedo it -- then so much the better. Isn't that what Crispin Porter & Bogusky had in mind with the Burger King "Whopper Sacrifice" campaign on Facebook, before it ran afoul of the social network's terms of service?

More direct comparisons have also been drawn to campaigns for Unilver's Axe deoderant geared to a similar male demographic in touting its ability to attract women. But consultant David Spark of Spark Media Solutions concludes that the Axe spots are funnier and more satirical by creating a completely over-the-top male fantasy.

"This one [the Amp app] didn't really poke fun at male behavior, even though that was AMP's tweeted intention," wrote Spark on the Intertainment Media company blog. "Rather it stereotyped women in an often unflattering way."

Even so, he reported that based on the "latest numbers" from Joshua Karpf, manager, Web communications for PepsiCo, the Amp app released last week had only been downloaed by 150 people as of Friday. But as of Wednesday, the app created by Interpublic's R/GA unit had soared to more than 17,000 downloads.

So Pepsi's non-apology apology Twitter apology appears aimed at acknowledging the controversy while maintaining the buzz the app has generated online and beyond. But if half the population ends up boycotting Pepsi products, you can bet the Amp app will disappear from the App Store faster than you can say "Come here often?"

3 comments about "Pepsi Does Not 'Score' With #Apologyfail".
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  1. David Peterson harvey from The Hidden Art, October 15, 2009 at 3:19 a.m.

    Good article. In the end, marketers do not score long-term success with products using methods the general public finds questionable ethically. I'm a guy and, even at the younger age where they are aiming their efforts, would have turned away from their products rather than reward such dubious and tasteless efforts.

    Sounds like someone needs a new ad agency. :-)

    Peace,
    David

  2. Frank Reed from Marketing Pilgrim, October 15, 2009 at 7:08 a.m.

    It's funny at just how unapologetic and contrived this whole thing comes off. The bottom line is that they went from virtually no downloads to 17,000 with the 'negative' publicity.

    They know this i snot going to bring someone on board as an AMP drinker but rather it will make the current consumers talk about it more and influence others to buy it.

    Pepsi doesn't care about morals and ethics, they care about sales. That pretty much sums up America which is something we either have to accept and wade through it, if we don't like it. It's not going to stop.

    Since this is obvously not genuine concern (wouldn't they pull the app immediately if it were?) then this makes me, personally, never want to buy a Pepsi product if I can avoid it.

  3. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, October 16, 2009 at 3:06 a.m.

    Being tasteless doesn't make one immoral or unethical and it is a huge mistake for marketers to assume US males are all in tune with NOW-style feminism. For instance, I don't think Letterman is funny but it was interesting that his ratings went through the roof precisely because he ticked off politically correct gatekeepers. Pepsi wants to market to young males who want to rebel from what they see as a stifling pc atmosphere in the US today. They could have done a better job in this case because the app is so stupid, but...with the Internet washing away the gatekeepers, expect a lot more political incorrectness and, no, don't expect too many boycotts.

    Marketers need to look at numbers, not their political opinions or sense of taste. The young male market is never going to be a bastion of good taste and, frankly, I would be worried if they ever were.

    I would never download such a sophomoric application that is clearly meant for the 50% of the male population with IQs less than 100...but I commend these corporations for not being frightened panderers. Next time they should consider something politically incorrect that appeals to smarter people.

    Males certainly don't want to see more of those pc "stupid husband" ads that would be banned if it were the wife who was being made fun of. I know tons of men who refuse to watch the Simpsons or Raymond because they portray men as the dummies. Imagine any of those sitcoms with the dummy roles reversed...right, they wouldn't be aired.

    I've seen several times in the Media Post comment section how presumably Republican execs take the NOW position on things presumably because they're married, may have daughters and further think that the US needs to embrace the opinions of all organizations, no matter how radical, that say they represent women because women supposedly control 80% of spending. But for 6000 years of recorded history women bought lots of products needed by families and themselves, often buying the brands their children or husbands had shown a preference for, meaning there is no special reason for marketers to ignore young men now, including the 50% of lower IQ men who would download that app.

    Finally, marketers are not social engineers.

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