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Missing your target audience? Tales from ad land

Published on Thursday, 22nd March 2018, contributed by Stratton Craig

Shoot for the moon, or just pretend that’s what you were aiming for…

When it comes to bad advertising, annoying your audience is one thing, but causing offence can be detrimental past the point of recovery. You might have the right product, but what if you have the wrong target audience? Or worse, create something that excludes and insults various audiences?  Copywriting agencies and content producers are full of ideas, but even with all the market research and customer insight in the world, there can still be moments when the target is hopelessly missed.

When Pepsi lost the plot

There are plenty of cringe-worthy ads in the ether, but what’s more interesting is when big name brands manage to miss the mark, despite their deep pockets and (presumably) all that agency genius at their fingertips. Cue Kendall Jenner and her peace-making can of Pepsi …

The model escapes her oppressively boring photo shoot after meeting the eyes of a handsome, male protester – is this sexual tension or social tension? Removing her platinum blonde wig, she decides to join him and other young people in a march for their rights (or love, or good hair, or something). She changes out of her shiny dress into a horrendous denim patchwork get-up emulating teenagers of the 1970s – probably to make her look kinda rad and right-on, man. Mid-protest, when it looks like everything might get a tad fraught, Kendall makes a vacant/smug facial expression and hands over a nice, cold can of original Pepsi to a police officer… problem solved!

Pepsi unites the world… in condemnation

Needless to say, the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad received immense criticism for oversimplifying the act of protest, and totally dismissing the risks and complexities of social and political unrest. It also undermined and patronised protestors and general audiences, not to mention the fact that the protest in the story was lacking a cause. The ad appeared particularly insensitive against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Audiences’ disdain caused the advert to go viral on social media with people writing comments such as “total exploitative brand social activism BS” on Twitter. The overwhelming disapproval prompted Pepsi to pull the ad and respond with a tweet: “Clearly we missed the mark and we apologise. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content…”

Lesson: Kylie Jenner might be the face of the moment, and potentially one of the faces of the decade, but even the most sparkly of celebrity endorsements can’t polish a turd.

Body shaming on the daily commute

Protein World’s ‘Are you beach body ready?’ advert from 2015 caused international uproar with its sexualised image of a woman in a bikini and body shaming message. London’s underground commuters fought back against the sexist and oppressive campaign with punchy and witty one liners and graffiti to deface the imagery. This grassroots protest was matched by New York’s subway passengers when Protein World gave the ad a second chance across the pond, despite its failure in the UK market. American and British audiences unite!

Lesson: Test and learn doesn’t work if you don’t learn anything from your first foray.

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