When Pepsi came under fire for using a commercial to reference race and police relations in America, many pundits from outside the advertising world wondered: Who thought this was a good idea? But Pepsi is just the latest in a long line of brands whose executives seem to lack the ability to see how consumers’ views might differ from their own.
Starbucks under CEO Howard Schultz’s watch is no stranger to controversy, including a disastrously misjudged attempt at getting customers to discuss race relations with their baristas. That idea was quickly dropped. But when Schultz vowed in late January that the coffee chain would give preference to foreign nationals when hiring its next 10,000 employees, the brand’s consideration rates took a substantial hit: There was a 6% drop in the number of consumers who told YouGov they’d consider patronizing Starbucks for their next coffee. YouGov BrandIndex also reported a 70% plunge in the company’s consumer perception levels.
While Pepsi is guilty of not considering the range of views consumers hold on topics of policing in America and racial dynamics, they also failed to recognize just how sensitive the population now is to the signals brands send. Compared to five or 10 years ago, Americans are much less likely to take these signals lightly — a shift that has overtaken advertising and the media world in general.
So why are brands defying logic to get political when the stakes are so high?