Pepsi Kendall Jener and Audi Superbowl ads fail because they competed against tougher competitors

Kendall Jener Pepsi ad

The purpose of content is to explain values offered by a product and ad new values which do not exist in a product. Values offered by a product are usually easy to measure hard values. Values created by content are usually hard to measure soft values. Hard value is car’s lower gas consumption. Soft value is customer’s perception of her own social positioning as a result of a car she owns. A company which produces the content hopes that values promoted in the content are accepted by customers. If a value is not accepted, then the content is not effective. Social responsibility is, for example, a soft value (read more here).

This year Audi promoted a #driveprogress Super Bowl ad in which it focuses on gender equality. Recently Pepsi promoted an ad featuring Kendall Jener focusing on social change. Both Audi and Pepsi management are trying to add soft values to their products. Audi management hopes that buyers of their cars believe that they help gender equality, just as Pepsi management hopes that their customers believe that buying a Pepsi will make them feel they are improving the society. Both brands made a mistake.

The mistake is in the lack of obvious proof and subsequent customer belief that buying an Audi or Pepsi actually changes anything. Brands can add social change and social responsibility as soft values easily – if they actually create social change. However, content alone can not create this value for customers. When a customer drives an Audi or drinks Pepsi, they do not truly believe they improved gender equality or social change.

The reason is simple: there is a lot of competition in social change. Audi and Pepsi took a risk, which is not calculated. Their managers most likely did not analyze values promoted by content, and if they will be accepted by the customers. They did not understand their competition for these values. Audi assumed it still competes with other car companies, and Pepsi assumed it still competes with other soft drinks. In fact they competed against thousands of other brands, of which many are not products, but non-profits, governments, and movements.

BMW and Coca Cola are much more effective because they compete only within their category and do not fail because they carefully choose their competitors. BMW and Coca Cola also offer values which target individuals and have a higher chance of acceptance. BMW focuses on social positioning and Coca Cola on rites of passage and social participation.

To avoid mistakes made by Audi and Pepsi, managers must increase the possibility that social change values will be accepted. Acceptance must be backed by tangible action and evidence and not only by content, and more importantly it must be competitive. Audi’s own corporate restructuring is not a value for customers because it is not competitive, and Pepsi’s video ad also is not a value for customers because it offers less social change than most non-profits.