Surely you’ve seen or heard about Pepsi’s recent ad, which quickly became the case study for marketing to Millennials gone terribly wrong.
I’ll quickly sum up Pepsi’s marketing fiasco for anyone that has been away from the Internet these last few weeks. (Seriously, kudos to you. I’m sure your life was much better for it).
Pepsi’s ad is a sexy, protest-themed short-film clearly aimed at Millennials, with protestors marching down a street holding edgy signs up like “Join the Conversation,” (a conversation about Pepsi being “totes fabs”, I guess?).
Those who weren’t carrying signs were fist-bumping away. Or even carrying a cello, in case there was an opportunity for a fever-pitched music collaboration possibility mid-march (which of course there was!).
Then the leader of the protest march emerges- “oppressed and downtrodden” Kendall Jenner (sarcasm intended as she is one of the Kardashians. And yes, this Millennial has no idea why or how she is a Kardashian. Or why or how Kardashians is a thing in the first place).
Anyway, Kendall Jenner becomes the leader of this protest-march thing, that Stephen Colbert hypothesized “as clearly a march for ‘Attractive Lives Matter.'”
And when the march reaches the line of police officers, with tension rising to Final Jeopardy levels, Kendall heroically hands the police officer a Pepsi, which he drinks, and everyone parties, because “Pepsi is the best! Whomever disagrees is justified to their opinion…can we please all hug!”
Pepsi was looking to start a movement, which they did – the Internet and Millennials joining forces in their hatred towards Pepsi.
Luckily for Pepsi, United Airlines charged in this week and told Pepsi, “Hold my drink, we got this!”
How did Pepsi Get Horribly Marketing to Millennials so Terribly Right?
I can just see the marketing/creative branding team now, pumping each other up with each swig of Pepsi and new idea, as they checked off another “Millennial” box.
✔ Millennial Angst
✔ Millennial Protest
✔ Good Looking Millennials
✔ Millennials Doing Creative Things Like Photography and Cello-Playing
✔ A Kardashian!
✔ Pepsi saving the world.
This is a sure-fire, surely we’ll never be fired, ad!
Sarcasm aside and logic included, here’s what Pepsi got wrong about marketing to Millennials.
1. Sexy “Millennial” marketing campaigns are the worst
Dear Company, don’t create a sexy “Millennial” marketing campaign.
Instead of reaching Millennials, 99% of the time this is how your Millennial marketing campaign comes off:
✔ a Pile of Complete BS
Millennials have been marketed (and lied to) their whole lives at great lengths by big companies.
Therefore, Millennials’ marketing BS radar is fine-tuned.
Companies want this silver bullet Millennial marketing strategy. Like if they use a marketing mix of snapchat, GIFs, and celebrity spokespeople, they will have all us Millennials flocking to their product like raccoons to an open trashcan.
Yet, most of the time that sure-fire Millennial marketing campaign falls completely flat.
Or even worse, it’s offensive to Millennials and creates the exact opposite effect with Millennials running as far away as possible from your.
Adweek described Pepsi’s ad as a “tone-deaf debacle.”
Millennial marketing campaigns feel so sleazily inauthentic. Millennials can see right through them. And Millennials will call your BS to the entire Internet.
2. Companies trying to be hip and cool feels like exactly that…
Companies trying to be hip and cool feels like a company trying to be hip and cool.
Not a recipe for an authentic connection and conversation.
As I stated in a Bloomberg article on the ways companies have failed to market to Millennials, sexy Millennial marketing campaigns are like “your parents trying to connect with you and they’re trying to do it by using the same language that your friends would. Talking in emojis, for instance, comes off as pandering and inauthentic.”
In a company’s attempt to be completely relevant, it merely comes off as completely dishonest.
As Eric Thomas described in his article How to Make Millennials Hate You, the Pepsi Way — “This is what happens when you don’t have enough people in leadership that reflect the cultures that you represent.”
3. Millennials are not this one-size-fits-all marketing block
The stereotypes and over-hyped generalizations of Millennials drive me insane.
Marketing companies need to throw out the word “Millennial” all together. Because whatever they’ve defined “Millennial” to be is not what this generation is aspiring to become.
There’s no such thing as Millennials. At least, not how it is being stereotyped.
As I wrote in my book 101 Secrets For Your Twenties,
“Why do we think we can sum up an entire generation with a simple label like a box of Wheat Thins?”
Generations would work much better together and connect at a deeper level if we stopped looking at each other as different “generations” and started comparing our questions, struggles, fears, and dreams.
We all struggle. Let’s share with each other the secrets to being successful in our 20s. Not demean and define each other as shallow stereotypes.
Because this picture below from “The Late Show” is exactly how these marketing stereotypes comes across.
4. It’s tough to enter into a serious conversation with something completely absurd
It’s never a wise marketing strategy to speak to those problems with something completely ridiculous (aka Pepsi as the answer to Millennial unrest).
And if you think us “whiny Millennials” are over-acting to Pepsi’s ad, check out the still frame of heroic Kendall Jenner ripping her whig off to join the protest and throwing it to her assistant.
C’mon, that’s bad. At least the reaction from her assistant perfectly foreshadowed the reaction to come.
Mocking the real problems Millennials are facing doesn’t seem like a strategic marketing strategy to me.
Yet, all too often I see ad campaigns speaking about Millennials like we’re a complete joke. It’s like the company can’t help itself.
Millennials, we want you to buy our stuff! Oh, and by the way Millennials we think you’re ridiculous and we kind of hate you! But please Like our Facebook page and scan this QR code…”
A Millennial Marketing Strategy That Will Never Get Old
Tell an honest story.
Share something real and true.
Don’t let a sexy consulting company sell you on a sexy “Millennial” ad campaign.
Be an authentic expression of your company that is true to who you are. That’s a sure-fire “Millennial” marketing strategy that will never get old.