Pepsi's big mistake was not the misguided Kendall Jenner ad that got the Internet up in arms, but how it responded.
Sure, the brand made a poor decision in spending big bucks on an ad that ultimately made light of serious social movements by suggesting that Kendall Jenner could unite street protesters and police officers with a Pepsi. But the social media uproar and resulting negative press was also an opportunity that Pepsi missed entirely. The brand defended the campaign at first and then apologized, rather than engaging on social media to change the conversation.
The solution was simple: Pepsi needed to laugh at itself.
If brand is a story and ads are its chapters, Pepsi needed to continue the story by taking an active role in writing its future. If Pepsi had immediately faced the facts that the ad was losing, recognized the embarrassment and absurdity of its own video and laughed at itself, it could have recovered some lost prestige. It could have joined the conversation and been part of a movement, perhaps even leading the march in a better direction (which, ironically, is what their ad was trying to portray). They could have written their next chapter.
A very simple way Pepsi could have laughed at itself at no cost would have been retweeting, rebranding, and posting any number of the great jokes and memes that were made in the immediate aftermath. In any other context, it is a marketer's dream to have social influencers actively and creatively promote your brand for free. Pepsi needed to see that opportunity and go on the offense.
Instead, Pepsi now feels like a bunch of out-of-touch executives sitting in a board room, wondering where things went wrong. It’s the opposite of what their ad tried to portray, and, as a result, the campaign stings of inauthenticity.
Laughing at yourself as a brand tells the social space that you're humble, not completely out of touch, and ultimately relatable. It gives brands the reins of the conversation back, and it should be the rule for inevitable but sharable mistakes like this.