Unless you’ve been under a rock this week, you’ve probably heard about all the hoopla with Pepsi’s new ad. There have been several articles written about it in a 48-hour timespan so I won’t regurgitate what’s wrong with it. But I can say, whether you love it or hate it, I think it’s clear that they missed the intended mark.
Honestly this commercial isn’t the most outrageous thing I’ve seen. There are several examples of companies totally fumbling the ball on ads. And as the only black face in most of the boardrooms I’ve been in, I can see how a flop like this happened. I wasn’t shocked but it did make me think more about diversity and inclusion in the boardroom. I wondered how many minorities (re: black people) were actually involved in the creation of the ad. When companies formulate ideas to reach a mass audience, while not having representation that reflects that audience, the results are usually subpar, especially when the ad is intended to be socially conscious.
The role of the only black person in a marketing department is a very interesting one, and unfortunately a normal occurrence. Wanting to be a team player (and keep your job), while also speaking against things that you know are offensive or flat out dumb, can sometimes be tricky. I’ve found that while there isn’t always malicious intent involved, it usually amounts to those in control being absolutely clueless. Having diverse employees can add so much to the creation of an ad from ideation to little nuances like wording and even music.
The reality is that it’s 2017 and diversity is still an issue. No matter who you are, we all live in our own bubble of the world. If you never cross paths with those outside of your bubble, or choose to explore the world outside your window, you could end up extremely misguided. And just working with “others” won’t cut it. The office is a vacuum. Minorities usually have a one-up on this exposure because we’ve been taught to survive in a world that doesn’t revolve around us. We are taught the history, culture, and social norms of others, while they rarely learn any more about us than what they see on the news and reality TV. This is where the knowledge gap starts, and for clueless advertisers it ends with Kendall Jenner giving a Pepsi to a cop and all being right in the world.
I could sit all day and tell you stories about microaggressions and awkward encounters that I’ve had at work. I’ve had to speak up on ads that painted African Americans in a very stereotypical way, I’ve had my HBCU referred to as a community college, I’ve heard African American communities referred to as urban and gritty, and I’ve been called sassy for my natural hair. I’ve even spearheaded projects to benefit minorities that have fallen flat once I was moved to other projects. I’ve fought the good fight. Some battles I’ve won, and some I’ve lost. So when it comes to the Pepsi ad, I wonder if the issue was a lack of minority involvement or just simply being overruled.
Regardless of what happened, a lot of money was wasted for an ad that was pulled within 24 hours of its release. No matter the career field, diversity and inclusion is a must. The same diversity issues that affect the boardroom have been shown to affect the newsroom, the courtroom, the classroom, the operating room, and every other room you can think of. Having insight from a diverse group can never be a bad thing. But more than just having a diverse team, we need more diverse people at the top. Because the truth of the matter is, the worker bees can only go so far. The person running the company and signing the check will have the ultimate say in the end. Nevertheless, no matter what your field or your role, speak up, represent, and don’t have your company out here looking like Pepsi.