Pepsi Spills: When We Miss the Hero Mark: From Brad Wise

Oh, Pepsi.

Pepsi, Pepsi, Pepsi. (Said as I shake my head in judgement. And understanding.) You broke Storytelling Rule #1 and it’s biting you in the buttocks. Hard.

I don’t want to pile on. But on the off chance you’re wandering around your red, white, and blue office halls searching for answers of what went wrong, I have an unsolicited thought. And I have a reason to feel confident to share.

I’ve blown it too.

Everyone (if we’re honest) in the creative, marketing, communication space has broken Rule #1. So I know how bad it feels to fall on your face and have everyone (even the people who love you) feel embarrassed for you. I’ve experienced that sinking regret mixed with shame that sits in your stomach like a sour cannonball. Here’s what you (and all of us at some point in our careers) forgot:

You are not the hero. 

When you forget this truth, the stories you tell, the media you buy, the impressions you make, will always fall flat (at best) and spark anger (at worst). Even when your intentions are good, like I truly think they were with your Kendall Jenner ad, if you get this hero thing twisted, bad stuff happens.

Your customers are your heroes. And more than anything, your heroes want to see stories about themselves. But here’s the key and where you really beefed it:

The stories have to be authentic.

Nothing is more infuriating to us, your heroes, than when you tell stories that feel fake, false, and forced. Three purposeful Fs there. When brands FFF it up like you did, we feel used. We don’t feel like your valued customer: We feel like your toadie. When we see ads like yours, with beautiful hipsters carrying around meaningless, color-coordinated signs and joining spontaneous acoustic jam sessions, we are offended. And I’m sure you’ve read all the legitimate reasons people are upset. Don’t ignore those. But it’s even more basic than that.

We’re mad because your ad shows that don’t really see us. Which means you don’t know us. Which means you haven’t taken the time to really get to know us. Which gives the perception that you don’t care.

When brands don’t care about us, we check out (at best) or we rage against the machine. And ironically that’s what you became with this short film. You became the tone deaf machine forcing yourself into relevance. Never good. But again, I know the pang of guilt you’re experiencing right now. I’ve been there in my own unique ways.

But take heart, Pepsi. (Or anyone who’s been there.) You took a risk. It didn’t work. Learn from it. I would argue the biggest lesson you can glean from this is that you are not the hero.

To make sure that deeply sinks in, maybe make a bunch of color-coordinated signs with that phrase on them, write a song with that in the refrain, and have an acoustic jam-sesh with your creative team. The good news is it can only get better from here.

You shall overcome. Or at least stand in the streets trying to keep the hope alive.

Rebel Pilgrim is a creative agency based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Rebel Pilgrim believes that story is the only way to spark change and create excitement for any business or product. Start converting your uninterested crowds into engaged clients using the power of storytelling.