PepsiGate: Why values should drive diversity

Pepsi’s short-lived controversial advert shows why values should drive diversity

How did Pepsi get their latest advert so wrong? Criticism for the ad ranged from ‘absurd’ to ‘disrespectful’ and even ‘a sick joke’. Some have called for a boycott of all Pepsi products. The ad begins with Kendall Jenner modelling at a photoshoot while a cheerful and diverse civil rights protest takes place in the background. At some point she notices what’s going on outside, defiantly throws off her wig, wipes off her lipstick and marches out to join them. Once part of the throng she pushes to the front and hands a police officer a can of Pepsi, thereby ending all injustice in the world. Probably. The backlash to the advert wasn’t pretty. In response, a Pepsi spokesperson said the advert ‘reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony.’

It can only be a good thing that companies are trying to be more diverse and inclusive, but their attempts to do that need to be driven by values and a desire to innovate rather than box-ticking or cynical PR. The ‘peace march’ taking place in Pepsi’s advert is clearly reminiscent of a Black Lives Matter protest. The association may even be deliberate, since Pepsi’s main rival, Coca-Cola, was boycotted by BLM last year. Whatever the reason, when a business builds its diversity purely around PR, things tend to go wrong.

Taking diversity from CSR to core

So, what’s the secret to getting it right? As an advocate of values-led branding, it goes without saying that I feel values have a part to play here. Diversity isn’t just good for your business because you have to do it, but because it increases the pool of experience you have to draw upon as a business, and inevitably creates opportunities. It’s impossible to build a successful, values-led business without embracing diversity: of people, of ideas, of approach. Your approach to diversity should reflect your core values – and the values that represent your brand should have diversity at their core.

Once a business makes that critical link between brand values and the diversity it needs to stay relevant, diversity can go from being a duty to a driver for innovation. This seems to be a link Pepsi failed to make, which is why they eventually had to pull their ad and watch 0.12% of their share value disappear.


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