Luke Janich
Apr 11, 2017

Pepsi's ‘protest’: a lesson and opportunity for brands

Better teamwork could have prevented the train wreck, suggests one industry observer.

Pepsi's ‘protest’: a lesson and opportunity for brands

By now you’ve most likely seen Pepsi’s latest ad. It’s been called insensitive, forced and sure, they have a point—combining Kylie Jenner, a political movement and Pepsi was always going to be problematic. Some have even gone as far as to say this (in-house offering) may just be the best advert for agencies ever.

But let’s remember for a moment: agencies don’t always get it right, either.

So I’m not going to join the chorus of industry professionals using this as a cautionary tale about in-house advertising. I’m not going to say that Pepsi needs to change its model. Instead, I think this ad shows the importance of using in-house creative alongside agencies in the right way.

The choice isn’t between in-house or agency: both must seamlessly work together.

An example with wings

No brand shows this hybrid approach better than Red Bull. Their in-house capabilities rival those of many creative and media agencies. They roll out everything from fully-integrated campaigns to reactive content. And their work makes many marketers squirm with envy.

What’s amazing is the scale of what they do in-house. We can all remember Red Bull Stratos, the jump from space, in 2012—but this was just one part of their wider marketing activities. From the now global Air Race to more specific events like the Soapbox, Red Bull Creative creates a near-constant stream of favourable PR and content.

But even though they’re market leaders in what they do, Red Bull still knows how to use agencies.
Say they have a specific problem or opportunity, or they want a specific set of skills or expertise, this is when they bring in an agency. So when Red Bull wanted to make a mark in a crowded Singapore market, it partnered with a small but effective local agency. And you may be surprised to know that key parts of the Red Bull brand—like the world-famous cartoons and the ‘Red Bull gives you wings’ line—all came out of an agency brief.

What’s clear is that Red Bull plays on the strengths of their agencies and their in-house teams. The two work together seamlessly whenever a project requires local expertise or integrated thinking.

What it means for Pepsi

Simply that it’s not a question of in-house or agency; it’s about using your resources in the right way. I think we can all agree Pepsi’s ‘protest’ ad shows impressive craft and execution; I bet many agencies and brands would be proud of such production values.

When it comes to the messaging, however, it all goes wrong. And it’s here that an agency’s expertise would help. Pepsi never needed an agency to create this ad, but they could’ve benefited from their counsel.

Which takes me back to the question I asked myself when I first saw the ad: how did it get so far along? If the teams behind the scenes were working together, it wouldn't have. And we’d have a very different end product today.

Luke Janich is CEO of RED²