How many people are aware of your brand? Hundreds? Thousands? 1,439,628? Seems really specific… But those are pretty much the kind of metrics you get in a media landscape made up of fan-counts and followers. The data is tangible, trackable, and looks good in a presentation deck in the quarterly earnings meeting. But all of that data is bullshit if you don’t know how people feel about your brand.
We’ve spent the better part of human existence trying to explain where emotion comes from. A knot in the stomach. A tug at the heartstrings. A feeling in the gut. It’s much different than logic. It’s instinct. The result of a collective human experience that created these things we call values. And so when we meet someone for the first time, we react based almost exclusively on our own emotions. Everyone we decide to befriend (or not to befriend) is built around intangibles. Trust. Respect. Admiration. Fear. And the greatest of them all: love.
If a person is honest, we pick up on that. If they are manipulating us, we generally know. We recognize when someone is being authentic. It’s our evolutionary shortcut to figuring out friend or foe. And in a world where brands are more than point-of-purchase interactions, it’s our shortcut to figuring out what we’ll buy—or buy into.
So how does a brand behave authentically? Well, just as people follow their instincts (rooted in their personal values), so should a brand. Yeah. Scary. It’s going to take trusting yourself and not faltering when pressured. But a brand of soup showed how to do it right, when they trusted their… well… gut.
Campbell’s is an iconic, nearly 150-year-old brand. They’re iconic because their brand means something to the people who buy their soup. It’s about sharing a warm meal together as a family. 50 years ago, that concept was marketed as a middle-class father, mother, two kids, and a dog—the Nuclear Family. But as the definition of family evolved, Campbell’s had to decide what stood at the real heart of their brand. Could they stay true to themselves while showing the Modern Family? They began introducing families of different backgrounds in the early 2000s but they really stirred the pot when, in 2015, the brand launched their “Real, Real Life” campaign. The creative included families of many types, including a same-sex couple with their son. The backlash was immediate and fierce, as can be seen on their social sites and comments section of any of their videos.
But the backlash they saw was not from the families that live “real, real lives,” angrily condemning the portrayal of their own family. It was from people who didn’t share Campbell’s values, angrily condemning the portrayal of other people’s families. Because, you know, glass houses or something.
Ultimately, Campbell’s built more goodwill—by making a bold statement that fits into their brand. Their VP of marketing activation says, “We wanted to show actual families, which means families of different configurations, cultures, races, and life choices. The American family is changing faster than at any time in recent history and it is now a true mosaic of shapes and sizes, all bonded through love, and love of good food.” Campbell’s proved that brands can evolve authentically, as long as they stay true to their own values. In this case, sharing a warm meal together—even if that means connecting from miles away, or eating lunch with your two dads.
“…brands can evolve authentically, as long as they stay true to their own values.”
So, Campbell’s did it right by staying true to what they believe, and not pandering. Okay, okay. This is advertising—it’s all pandering. But we should at least have an ounce of credibility when we take a stand, right? And that lack of credibility and authenticity is what led a cola brand to find themselves on the wrong end of the protest.
In an effort to create a “relatable” campaign, Pepsi wanted to “target” a “millennial audience” and create a “culture-driven” ad with “multi-demographic appeal.” These terms were probably (definitely) discussed in multiple board meetings. One can be sure consultants were involved. But, as we’ve seen, people bond over emotions—not analytics. Pepsi has tried to position themselves around carefree youthful rebellion, ever since they directly challenged Coke in the cola market. In fact, the advent of the Pepsi Generation was authentic and real. But in the last decade they have failed to deliver on that promise, becoming increasingly obsessed with metrics, analytics, and the next “platform” being “utilized” by an “increasingly engaged audience.” It’s why they recently dropped to number three—behind Diet Coke. That must have been what inspired the boardroom banter that led to the now infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi Revolution spot.
So how could Pepsi go so wrong with an anthem to youthful rebellion? Well, the biggest mistake is a total lack of respect for what’s important to the audience. Pepsi listened to metrics instead of its gut. If they had taken a step back, they might have written a spot that actually took a stand on an issue, or felt relatable to the Pepsi Generation they claim to represent. They might have recognized the various personal and emotional reasons as to why young people were marching across the country over the last few years. Instead, they set out to capitalize on the #trending factor, and took a self-serving approach that ultimately led to a big rejection of the brand by the very people they were looking to court. ICYMI, here’s what happened.
“Pepsi listened to metrics instead of its gut.”
You see, Pepsi valued likes over love. Campbell’s valued love over likes. Maybe it’s a bold calling that will take an entire industry shift, but we can’t help but wonder what advertising would look like if we were all a little more comfortable with gut feelings and a little less focused on grand figures. Boldly existing for those who share your brand values, and not minding if you piss off those who don’t, is the key to staying on track with the changing times.
So, challenge yourself to regular gut checks, and those all important have-I-fallen-onto-the-bandwagon checks, and stand tall on the foundation that your brand was built on.
Need a social media strategy that won’t let your brand down? Get in touch with us here.
Or check out this philosophy in action when we harnessed existing brand conversations for VISIT FLORIDA to create a social media strategy and advocacy platform with staying power.