To:  Brand Pepsi team

From: Greg Lyons, CMO, North America

Re: Misfire

Teammates, I guess they say hindsight is 20/20 for a reason. The powerful and emotional Kendall Jenner spot for some reason just didn't “click” with all our audiences and stakeholders. The good news is that for the week past, Brand Pepsi crushed it in terms of “share of mind.” We just knocked that out of the park with unaided recall: a stratospheric 61% of total population and 77% ages 12-to-24. Unfortunately, the sentiment analysis yielded less stellar results.  

Overall, 51% of the total audience viewed the ad negatively, 13% very negatively, and 31% “what a bunch of douchebags.”

There was a bright spot or two, of course: we had 39% positive scores from the hearing- and visually impaired and a solid 40% from Americans hospitalized overseas.



Still, it's time for a gut check. There are those who saw the spot as somehow exploitative and/or trivializing of serious social issues, such as racial justice, religious freedom, women's rights, police brutality and abuse of super-slow motion. Once again -- in hindsight -- these are fair points. But let me be quick to add this was not a failure of strategy.

For 65 years, in many iterations, the Pepsi Generation has tapped the zeitgeist to resonate with young people with what I call “the power of NOW” -- the tastes, styles, leisure activities, preoccupations, and of course the music of the young kids. In 2017, the in crowd is “all about” their disenchantment with a number of things I can't even keep track of, because the kids are so notoriously fickle. (I mean, what's the gripe now? Is there something called Uber?) My point is, it's crucial to catch the wave, and we have done that successfully for decades -- sometimes with bold risks, such as “The Taste of a New Generation” and “Generation Next,” which articulated our essential brand ethos in daring new ways. 

I'm sorry, but when we showed teens on the beach grooving in Dune Buggies, or costumed extras in hippie paisley, I don't recall anyone complaining about exploitation. Finding the cultural moment is simply in our DNA. I like to think that Skip Marley's buoyant track soared in the tradition of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Britney Spears and Mariah Carey. The sole difference is that the lyrics -- “Yeah, if you took all my rights away/ yeah, if ya tellin’ me how to pray/Yeah if you won't let us demonstrate/yeah, you’re wrong” -- are a slight tonal mismatch with the task of selling excessive quantities of sugar water to our morbidly obese target demographic.

I have to personally take some responsibility for this: when the animatic was focus grouped, there was some sentiment expressed to the effect of “not sure I get this” and “what the fuck is the matter with you people?” In the denouement, when Miss Jenner handed an ice-cold Pepsi to a policeman, several respondents in each group in four cities reported “throwing up in their mouth.” Here, I confess, I pulled rank and directed the agency stay the course, but to find even more attractive ethnic people to populate the ad. “Hotter Muslims!” I insisted, but it wasn’t enough.

The question we face now is where we can indeed click with our audience, zeitgeist-wise.  If some small-minded scolds aren’t prepared for an eloquent statement about how vacuous a semi-Kardashian can miss the point of an earnest mass demonstration, then what?  

We have to act quickly; those media buys are already made. So let's move in this direction: I'm told nobody in our demo has a job or any hope of finding one.  Is that something to work with? Todd: Find out if Duran Duran is available.

9 comments about "GenerationVexed".
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  1. Stephen Block from Amazon Partners, April 10, 2017 at 8:42 a.m.

    Amazing, Bob, that you were able to obtain this leaked memo. I'm glad that this week you choose not to give us your so-called expert opinion, but rather let the hard-working, well-meaning folks from Pepsi speak for themselves.  Good call.  

    The Pepsi folks clearly think young and probably only want to return to those wonder years of 1984 when Pepsi was the "Choice of a New Generation," the era when our likely ad creatives were born.  Why can't we just enjoy life and "The Joy of Pepsi?"  But their challenge is quite daunting... how do you make carbonated sugar water great (or even relevant) again?

    Thanks for sharing the memo.

  2. Steve Smith from Mediapost, April 10, 2017 at 12:20 p.m.

    This is the fake news we need more of.

  3. Jeff Sawyer from GH, April 10, 2017 at 1:51 p.m.

    Next Campaign Spot in Four Words:  PEPSI MAX VON SYDOW

  4. Robert Kim from WFMY News 2, April 10, 2017 at 2:28 p.m.

    Mr. Lyons is unable to separate rationlization from critique, possibly because he understands the ramifications of a misstep like the Kendall Jenner ad. It leaves a lingering bad taste in the mouths of board members at a time when core carbonated beverage sales are fickle, at best.

    Racial tension + white model/reality TV star + soft drink = wildly mis-matched ingredients. Period. Once he/the brand/the agency own the fact that that recipe was the core failure of that spot, the sooner they will understand why it is so incredibly disliked. And, hopefully, they will never make a spot like that again.

    This isn't about "millenial zeitgeist" or trying to being "daring" with their brand. It was a miss and a big one! Take it like an adult!

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 10, 2017 at 3:13 p.m.

    It's a game. You put everything into a paper bag (in this case somebody's back was turned and other things got put into it0, shake it up and then empty it and whatever you get, you get.  Let's see sales. They sure got PR out of it.

  6. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, April 10, 2017 at 3:21 p.m.

    I never imagined this would be necessary, but THIS IS NOT A LEAKED MEMO. IT IS PRETEND. 

  7. Chuck Lantz from, network replied, April 10, 2017 at 3:49 p.m.

    Oh, really, "Bob"?  ... And how do we know it's NOT a leaked memo, "Bob"?  

    This entire column reeks with the sticky stench of Coca Cola, "Bob."

  8. Stephen Block from Amazon Partners replied, April 10, 2017 at 4:35 p.m.

    And I never thought I'd have to say this, Bob, but most didappreciateyour facetious post. Just playing along, you fake newsie, you.

  9. John Grono from GAP Research replied, April 10, 2017 at 7:33 p.m.

    Bob, if ONLY we could replace the word 'memo' with 'president'.

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