Another sign that we are doomed as a society or just some juvenile humor?
Last year, Pepsi found itself in the middle of a controversy over some suicide-themed ads they put out that were pretty tasteless. My assessment of that particular issue was Pepsi messed up good and proper. Now the company is back in the hot seat over a (sort of) tasteless iPhone application it created to help promote its AMP energy drink. The application — like the drink — is marketed to pubescent males. The idea is they can use the app to get advice on how to score with different types of chicks. Unfortunately, they took it one step farther by also building in a feature that lets them brag about their conquests to their friends.
As was obviously expected, the campaign got Team Political Correctness all up in a tizzy. Pepsi then “apologized” to those who were offended on Twitter and asked people to Tweet their opinions about the issue. They even asked people to use a pepsifail hashtag. Brilliant. What they didn’t do is immediately kill the application (which they have since done).
CNN had Adam Ostrow of Mashable and PR “guru” Kevin Dugan on to discuss the topic. Both made some excellent points about the pros and cons of the campaign and whether or not Pepsi should pull it from the Apple App Store.
I tend to agree with Adam on this one. Yes, it is tasteless; but, at the end of the day, it is designed to appeal to young boys and that’s what young boys like. Yes the “brag about it” part was a little over the top and was probably not necessary. Yes, it was bound to piss people off — and get a lot of publicity in the process — and there is no doubt that this was a calculated strategy. But should Pepsi have pulled the app?
Ultimately, I say yes but ONLY because AMP is owned by Pepsi and the Pepsi brand needs to stay squeaky-clean. If AMP was its own company, I would have said there would be a strong case for keeping it, political correctness be damned. It might get some people’s panties in a bunch, but not AMP’s target audience. In a way, the controversy is good for the brand if the goal is to appeal to pseudo bad-boys. And, as Adam pointed out, a “sister” app. that poked fun at guys would have been another legitimate way to mitigate the “outrage.”
I also suspect that the reason Pepsi didn’t pull the app right away is because they wanted to get the Twitter publicity first. By “admitting” they screwed up, they had already set the stage to later make it right. I also suspect that if the “it’s a joke — lighten up” crowd dramatically overwhelmed the “oh my heck, I’m so appalled” crowd they would have kept it up.
Pepsi took a risk. I think it paid off. They also provided another great case study for savvy social media marketing.