Pepsi Fumbles Context of NFL Playoffs

Context and relevancy are supposed to be the next big things. But even in the world of TV, where programming is known months in advance, brands still drop the ball — like Pepsi did in the NFL conference championship broadcasts last week.

Context and relevancy are supposed to be the next big things. But to actually serve contextually relevant content isn’t just a challenge for personalized, digital media. Even in the world of TV, where programming is known months in advance, brands still drop the ball — like Pepsi did in the NFL conference championship broadcasts last week.

For Sunday’s NFC Championship game in Philadelphia, played between the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles, Pepsi seemed to run just one commercial: A Dallas Cowboys spot that ran at least three times during the game in the Philadelphia area:

So, OK, somewhere the ad buyer said, “This is an NFL game, run our best performing NFL commercial.” What’s the big deal?

Well, that was silly for a bunch of reasons. Not least of which is that the Cowboys didn’t even make the playoffs this year. So, most of their fans aren’t tuning in.

What makes it even worse is this was a game that drew heavy Minnesota and Philadelphia audiences. Sure, fans from across the country watched too, but I bet Philly and Minnesota fans made up half of the audience.

And all of those viewers have one thing in common: They don’t like the Dallas Cowboys.

Minnesota fans have some history with Dallas.

And Eagles fans … well former Eagle Bennie Logan said it best:

Former Eagle Bennie Logan on the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry.
Former Eagle Bennie Logan on the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry.

Pepsi running this commercial over and over again to Eagles and Vikings fans isn’t just ineffective, it’s insulting. Pepsi might as well have run a Coke ad.

The thing is, in the past, this was OK. You may even think it’s OK today. But it’s not going to be OK tomorrow.

If we’re going to meet the challenges of relevance at the personal level, we need to get our heads out of the sand about marketing at the macro level. You’re never going to bring effective relevancy to your digital content if you can’t recognize that a Dallas commercial was a bad idea this playoff season.

Understand what’s going on with your audience when they’re engaging with your marketing. Why are they there? What do they need? What’s happening around them? That’s what’s going to make your marketing stand out in the years ahead.

Great Marketing Starts With Powerful Insights: Here Are 5 Rules to Find Them

All inspiring marketing rests on a powerful, catalyzing insight. Most marketing misfires stem from a miscue masquerading as an insight. As the starting point for any innovation, communication or experience effort, nothing is more foundationally critical than a sound insight for staying on-target as work progresses.

All inspiring marketing rests on a powerful, catalyzing insight. Most marketing misfires stem from a miscue masquerading as an insight. As the starting point for any innovation, communication or experience effort, nothing is more foundationally critical than a sound insight for staying on-target as work progresses.

If an insight is even two degrees off at the start, by the time you’re reviewing work weeks or months down the road, you’ll likely be miles off the mark. So getting the insight right from the outset is essential to developing resonant marketing and avoiding the agony of round after round of unproductive work.

As a recent case in point, we have two examples of brands that tried to take on the issue of the polarized, strident state of our social reality: Pepsi and Heineken.

With its Kendall Jenner ad, Pepsi showed the quasi-celebrity resolving social crisis by opening a can of cola.

https://youtu.be/dA5Yq1DLSmQ

In World’s Apart, Heineken showcased pairs of people with wildly divergent views discovering they could talk calmly and reasonably to each other.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wYXw4K0A3g

The Pepsi work was instantly and universally panned, leading to its embarrassing and equally instant withdrawal. The Heineken work was widely viewed as thought-provoking, moving and appropriate.

While it’s easy to pick on a variety of issues with the Pepsi ad (as so many have done at this point), I believe that the difference in the success of the two efforts comes down to the difference between how well the two brands adhered to what I consider these cardinal rules of good insights.

1. No Room for Wishful Thinking

One of the worst — and most common — sins of insights is allowing wishful thinking to creep into the mix. I shudder to think how many times I’ve sat with a brand manager who showed me a positioning statement containing an insight along the lines of, “I wish there were a breakfast cereal that was healthy AND tasted good.” This is an insight pre-engineered to invite the circular brand promise, “Only Toasty-O’s are healthy AND good tasting!” You’ve got to tune your BS meter to 11, rigorously sniff out any trace of self-delusion, strategy or aspiration, and stick to reality.