Re-accommodating the message: Learning from Pepsi’s, United Airlines’ mistakes

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Re-accommodating the message: Learning from Pepsi’s, United Airlines’ mistakes

By Rob Eder - 04/14/2017

In a world where the consumer is increasingly demanding that all brands “get real” and connect with them in a truly authentic and honest way, Pepsi’s short-lived and frightfully miscalculated Kendall Jenner/”Live for New Moments” ad and United Airlines’ PR implosion in the wake of its horribly botched “overbooking/re-accommodation” incident ought to serve as case studies on how NOT to communicate with today’s consumer.


In fairness to Pepsi, its crisis management team should get props for at least figuring out within 24 hours what its ad team should have figured out weeks, if not months, earlier — the world isn’t exactly going to come together and “join the conversation” over a Pepsi. 


Or would they?


“In that way, the soft drink ad succeeded. It did indeed provoke conversation — about Pepsi’s tone-deafness,” explained Wired reporter Angela Watercutter in the April 5 article, “Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Ad was so awful it did the impossible: It united the internet.” 


“The message is clear: All those Women’s Marches, Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations outside Trump Tower would be much more effervescent — and effective — if someone had just brought some soda,” Watercutter wrote.


Luckily for Pepsi, within a few days a United Airlines flight crew ordered airport security to rough up (ahem, “re-accommodate”) a 69-year-old physician and bounce him out of the seat he had legitimately bought and paid for, and all media attention turned to United CEO Oscar Munoz and his half-assed apology in three acts.


“The key to contrition, according to public relations experts, is projecting sincerity, humanity and a plain-spoken demeanor — the better to convince a cynical public. And in this age of whipsawing social media, you had better do it fast,” wrote New York Times media correspondent Michael Grynbaum for the April 12 article, “Why sorry is still the hardest word.”


“‘The head of United should never have been allowed to take three swings at correcting and apologizing for an incident that was on more social media than Kim and Kanye’s wedding,’” PR consultant Mortimer Matz told Grynbaum.

This isn’t about politics; this is about marketing. It’s about being socially aware and present in your messaging and communication.


This is why Drug Store News and our partners at Mack Elevation remain committed to the New General Market Summit we co-produce together. The program — now in its third year — was created to help bring thought leadership around how to engage and communicate to an ever-evolving consumer that is more and more “a tapestry of cultures, ethnicities and demographics aligned against commonalities, needs and lifestyles,” explained Elevation Forum founder and managing director Dan Mack, and “less about specific demographic groups and more about an expanding global mindset. It is a movement of culturally competent organizations, creating products and services for the new consumer; inspired by inclusion, community and purpose.”


Drug Store News will feature an exclusive in-depth cover feature in the June issue highlighting the biggest ideas to emerge from the April 4 New General Market Summit. 


Until then, we can probably expect a few more case studies on how NOT to talk to today’s consumer.