The ‘Worst Ad Campaign Ever’?


Is it something in the water? Or something in the Pepsi? April has seen a number of brands fall flat on their faces with disastrous and mostly baffling content.

I find crisis communications extremely fascinating. What happens when a video about a company goes viral? (United Air). Or when an ad campaign causes such offence that it is met with a hate campaign? (Pepsi). And something so stupid being released, we wonder if they wanted to join the list of bad PR for the month of April on purpose (Adidas). Oh and did you hear Cosmopolitan called Cancer a weight loss trend? Has the marketing world gone mad?!

Pepsi have always featured huge stars in their ad commercials, and like to create a huge buzz in the run-up to their release. For some it’s an honour to be featured. Celebrities that have starred for Pepsi’s ads in the past include Beyoncé, One Direction and Michael Jackson.

The Kardashian reign

The Kardashian family are an empire known the world over, and in ways, we can look to Kris Kardashian (momager) for inspiration in how she took the Kardashian brand from nothing to the household name that it is today. One of the famous spawn, model Kendall Jenner, was selected for the new Pepsi commercial which aired two weeks ago.

Kendall hasn’t been shy of negative backlash in her short career, as many think her modelling contracts are thanks to her name and not her talents. She may be only 21 years of age but she’s walked for the biggest brands out there including Chanel, Balmain and Givenchy and also walked Victoria’s Secret. Not to mention her editorial covers for Vogue and most recently, Harper’s Bazaar. Privileged? That’s up to you.

So it was time for Kenny’s big break – the Pepsi ad. She would be welcomed into the arms of every family in America. A household name with a butter-wouldn’t-melt face. This would be the advert to get Kendall’s image back on track.

Not the reaction Pepsi were hoping for

The advert was met with such a backlash of negative comments that Kendall was said to be ‘traumatised’ by the whole ordeal. How Pepsi couldn’t have saw this coming is worrisome. According to Adweek, the digital engagement received for the advert saw 43% mentioning Black Lives Matter, 31% labelling it ‘tone-deaf’ and 10% calling it the ‘worst ever’. Not what mommy Kris was expecting, I’m sure.

The Pepsi advert saw Kendall Jenner at a protest rally, handing a police officer a can of Pepsi resulting in world peace. Ah Ken, if only the world could be made right with a can of Pepsi. The advert made light of protests that have been happening all over the US and made it seem more of a social gathering than a fight for people’s rights.

Is this how we handle the Black Lives Matter campaign? The Women’s Marches? The Trump rallies? We hire a rich, white, model and socialite to bring an end to the hate and hurt that has happened on the streets of America? Well according to Pepsi, it would seem so.

And the ad is retracted

A lot of people claimed the ad imitated a scene from a past protest, furthering the negative backlash as the ad was labelled ‘insensitive’.


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

Too little too late, perhaps?

Prior to the release, Kendall issued a statement praising the ad, “I am thrilled to join the legendary roster of icons who have represented their generations and worked with Pepsi. To me, Pepsi is more than just a beverage – it registers a pop culture icon and a lifestyle that shares a voice with the generation of today. The spirit of Pepsi – living in the ‘now’ moment – is one that I believe in. I make a conscious effort in my everyday life and travels to enjoy every experience of today.”

Was this one of those enjoyable experiences for you Ken?

Many have wondered that if the managing team at the top who approved this ad, featured more people of colour or encouraged a culture for people to speak out about their apprehensions, this may never have happened. Either Pepsi need to look at their diversity, or think about their organisational culture.


A subject line with much controversy

I was going to solely focus on Pepsi in this post, but I couldn’t not mention Adidas’ most recent debacle.

The ‘king of trainers’ sent out a promotional email to customers with the inventive flabbergasting subject line, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”

Distasteful, insensitive, or just plain wrong. Four years ago, on April 15th 2013, two homemade bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others. I wonder who got fired for this faux-pas.

The company issued an apology yesterday claiming there was “Clearly… no thought given to the insensitive email subject line we sent.”

Maybe Adidas were taking one for the team and wanted to take the heat off United Air and Pepsi. All in all, it’s been a horrific month for big brand marketing and we’re only halfway through.




A recent graduate of Business with Public Relations from LJMU, Orlagh works in the influencer marketing industry and has just returned to the UK after spending one year working in New York City.

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