Without Research, Your PR Campaign Will Fail

Since becoming Accredited in Public Relations, I’ve been watching the news with a different set of eyes.  When I see PR disasters play out time and time again, one thought races through my brain.

Where was the PR person?

It’s become clear that many companies use PR for “spin” or “slant.” These deceitful notions are why so many companies convey skewed messages that don’t translate well to their audiences. As a result, their brands suffer terribly.

These nagging thoughts and questions concerning the strategies, tactics, and execution of some of these PR mishaps are what compelled me to start this blog.  I’ve gathered an excellent and wise group of practitioners that have some really good things to say. You won’t be bored!

Public relations should have a seat at the management table from the very beginning of a campaign starting with research all the way through implementation and evaluation.

As many of you already know, the Pepsi-Kendall Jenner ad turned out to be a massive failure. If you haven’t seen the now defunct commercial, you can watch it here. 

For a quick run-down, the commercial begins with a mass protest featuring a myriad of marchers.  It’s not clear what the protest is about.  A blonde-wigged Kendall Jenner notices the demonstration, rips off her wig and joins the protesters. At the end, Jenner approaches a police officer and gives him a Pepsi as a sign of peace and unity.

My thoughts?

Research.  Where was it? One of the first things you do in a campaign is define your audience. (Hint: there is no such thing as the general public). Who did Pepsi want to target? A company wants its target audience to buy its product as a result of the campaign.

So, who was Pepsi trying to persuade to buy its soda? I have never spoken with anyone working for Pepsi. My guess is the 118-year-old company was trying to reach social justice millennials. If you’ve been watching the news (I don’t blame you if you’re on a news break!), you’ve seen that recent protests in our country (Black Lives Matter, Berkeley protesting Ann Coulter, Anti-Trumpers,) are dominating headlines.  It seems Pepsi’s strategy aimed at playing off these protests to bring a message of peace and harmony through soda-drinking.

Ok. Fine.

But before you even write the script, reach out to the very folks involved in the protests tied to the campaign’s approach. Their feedback is CRUCIAL. What would resonate with them? For instance, did anyone reach out to leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement? If so, they would have gotten the critical feedback needed to nix the whole premise altogether.

Kendall Jenner. She is a beautiful model and celebrity. But does her persona resonate with the audience? Will she persuade your target demographic to spend money on Pepsi? To reiterate my earlier comment about how to build a successful campaign, before you hire your main character or spokesperson, you MUST properly research your audience.  If you want fans of E! to buy your product, then she may be perfect for the job! But if your target audience is social justice millennials, ASK them to what they would respond. Whether it’s through focus groups, surveys or one-on-one interviews, get their take on it.

Finally, research your message. The message that translated to me was, “Pepsi can bring even the most polarized groups together.”  It’s cute, it is!  But again, will this click with the folks you want buying your drink? The answer was pretty clear.

Pepsi will be okay. We have short attention spans, and they can learn from this.

What are your thoughts? Please share your comments below.

6 thoughts on “Without Research, Your PR Campaign Will Fail

Add yours

  1. I just saw the Pepsi campaign video after reading your post. I did not know about the campaing, the protests against it, and Pepsi’s (honest) response. Although I live in Europe I’ve been following the american social protests in recent years and it seems clear to me that the negative reaction to the campaign in ditectly related to these protests. However, whrn I saw the movie canpaign now, I saw it with my ‘european’ years and something stood out immediatly from the video:
    1) Is there a coherent and relevant message? No. I just felt emptiness watching it.
    2) Can a soda bottle be a symbol of social and human rights? Absolutely no. It is just a commodity.
    3) Can Jenner be a symbol of the young american social and human rights protesters? Hell no, she is a hyper-consummer not a social engaged person.
    4) This ad used futile and emoty ingredients (such as a celebrity and the bottle itself) as representations of high social values.
    5) People dont want their values and rights to be compared to a fast food product. Values are meanfull. A soda is just a soda.
    6) Of course I believe Pepsi could have produced a good campaign using human and social rights as the main ingredients, but the soda shouldnt be used as a solution symbol to social problems.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe that even if the research had been carried out, surely they watched it before going live and thought, there’s potential for backlash here? I do think there are a number of companies that can create stories around current topics and do it well, and even straying away from the PR of the campaign, I watched it numerous times and thought it was a completely bang average ad. It was neither thought provoking or edgy, and the only thing exciting about it … was the fallout!


  3. İ don’t agree with this : “Pepsi can bring even the most polarized groups together.” It is slogan what you created after watching video but the aim was create video relevant to their slogan “Pepsi as a sign of peace and unity.”

    Thanks for article

    Liked by 1 person

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