by Chaz Thorne
In April of this year, PepsiCo released a controversial commercial starring Kendall Jenner that was roundly criticized for not so subtly suggesting their product could be a potential solution for centuries of racial disharmony and systemic oppression of minorities in the United States.
In case you missed it, or just have to see it again, click here.
To become part of the conversation around this issue, PepsiCo was using a conventional technique called "movement marketing." Though others prefer the much less flattering and potentially more honest term "movement washing."
And become part of the conversation they did, though probably not in the way executives intended.
PepsiCo made a similar racially charged misstep with this Mountain Dew ad in 2013.
Pepsi issued the following apology for the 2017 incident:
"Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize."
Contrast this with Patagonia's reaction to President Trump's announcement of the planned downsizing of several federal monuments on December 4th.
The all-black home page of the outdoor gear and apparel maker's website stated, "The President Stole Your Land. In an illegal move, the president just reduced the size of Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history."
In addition, Patagonia’s billionaire founder, Yves Chouinard, plans to take the White House to court, saying to CNN on Tuesday morning, “I’m going to sue him. It seems the only thing this administration understands is lawsuits.”
As for Pepsi, the implied and imagined reasons for their misstep abound. Many in advertising linked their failure to the fact that the campaign was devised and executed internally without the help of an outside agency. As if the advertising industry has not been subjecting us to similarly societally tone-deaf assaults for decades.
Patagonia’s purpose, as expressed in their mission statement, reads:
“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
PepsiCo’s mission statement reads:
“As one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world, our mission is to provide consumers around the world with delicious, affordable, convenient and complementary foods and beverages from wholesome breakfasts to healthy and fun daytime snacks and beverages to evening treats. We are committed to investing in our people, our company and the communities where we operate to help position the company for long-term, sustainable growth.”
It is interesting how brief and clear Patagonia’s statement is whereas, PepsiCo’s is filled with typical and forgettable corporate gobbledygook. Do you think there is anyone at PepsiCo who could both repeat the above back to you word-for-word and explain how it guides their daily decision-making?
More importantly than defining their purpose in a clear, concise and unique way, Patagonia puts their money where their mouth is by matching their stated purpose with their activities.
Their longstanding commitments to environmental and social responsibility through conservation efforts, environmental sustainability, protecting migrant workers, supply chain management and fair trade certification bear this out. As a result, their brand is inextricably linked with these "movements."
What notable and sustained actions has Pepsi taken to address racial inequality in the United States? When have they committed to a determined and public stand in support of those unfairly oppressed?
Yeah, I can’t think of an example either.
In short, Patagonia has earned the right, through continued focus on their core purpose, to be part of the conversation on President Trump’s announcement.
If PepsiCo defined their purpose around more strongly supporting movements that are committed to social change and equality and then backed that up through a sustained commitment to those specific causes, only then would they have the right to weigh in.
It was right to criticize PepsiCo for their cynical attempt at "consumerizing" a significant social movement. It is equally right to celebrate those, like Patagonia, who demonstrate genuine caring and commitment to society through long-term purpose-led initiatives.