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The Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad and The Doom of In-House Agencies

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We may be familiar with one of the most controversial ads in recent memory – the Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner. Released in 2017, the advertisement caused an uproar on social media, calling the communications campaign tone-deaf and highly problematic. Many called into question how an advertisement could have been approved.  

What Are Marketing Experts Saying?  

Following the backlash, PR Week published an article featuring opposing viewpoints from marketing veterans Marian Salzman and Peter Land and the sides they take on whether the ad spells doom for in-house agencies.

Marian Salzam thinks it does. “The ad behind the recent Pepsi debacle was conceived in an echo chamber and not gut checked with real-world, diverse consumers,” she says.  

She also discusses how in-house agencies usually have a set mindset, and can easily end up creating something that is not representative of the entire population. “Many companies are echo chambers, and teams become isolated,” she says, and notes that an outside agency may have been able to prevent this embarrassment.  

Although Salzam hopes this was an isolated incident, it’s likely that something similar could happen again if homogenous teams continue to create brands’ marketing and advertising.

Peter Land, however, takes a different viewpoint, citing Nike as an example of a successful brand with an in-house team.  

“One of the many things that has made Nike successful is it considers itself a challenger brand that defies convention and takes creative risks,” he writes.  

He adds that the best ‘challenger’ brands foster strong collaboration, a tactic that led to Nike’s Air Jordan franchise. Peter does not believe that Pepsi’s failed ad was due to being created in-house. He thinks that the Pepsi situation should be a teaching example of how to best synergize in-house and outside agencies and the importance of a good PR strategy. 

What Can Companies Take Away from This?  

Pushing the envelope can be a great move for brands, as can using a celebrity spokesperson; but ultimately, brands shouldn’t lose sight of their main goal: to connect with consumers and foster a positive association with, and feeling about, their company and products. Whether employing an in-house agency or recruiting external public relations and branding support, it’s worth getting things gut-checked by a varied group of people, who may see something different than what’s intended, before putting something out to the masses.

As your PR experts, we understand the importance of crafting intentional and purposeful campaigns in order to get the correct message across to your target audience. Explore our comprehensive range of PR and Comminications services to discover how we can assist in amplifying your organization’s mission.

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