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The Missing Ingredient That Cost Pepsi, Bloomingdale's and Bud Light Millions...and Hurt Their Reputation

Written by:

Kathleen Fletcher

June 6, 2019
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The old adage, "I'm responsible for what I say, not for what you understand," should never be applied in marketing or advertising. Thoughtful and deliberate marketing concepts encourage consumers to consider a specific perspective or take a specific action. Creativity should capture the interest of the audience, trigger an appropriate emotional response, and connect a brand to bigger things.

Unfortunately, creativity is also extremely subjective. And marketers too easily fall in love with our own ideas. It’s critical for creative teams to make sure a concept actually achieves what the brand hopes it will. Asking employees or relatives doesn’t count!

Instead, the best way to stay objective is to have a third-party, independent market research company help you. Good market research teams will pull together the intended target audience and objectively present creative concepts so brand managers can truly hear how their messages will be received.

There are countless examples of brand disasters that could have been averted with the right research. Especially in today’s social media-centric world, marketing fiascoes damage reputations quickly. Three creative concepts come immediately to mind:

1. Pepsi's "Live for Now" Ad

Pepsi is still recovering from its 2017 "Live for Now" TV commercial – the two-and-a-half-minute-long video in which Kendall Jenner attempted to "change" a major social issue – an issue that was never identified and that seemed to co-opt real-life protest for commercial gain. The attempt caused a national outcry, resulting in Pepsi pulling the ad in less than 24 hours. It was then that Pepsi realized using the idea of hypothetical social activism for their own benefit was not a good look for the company.

Pepsi "Live for Now" Ad

2. Bloomingdale's "Spiked Eggnog" Campaign

We have to ask…in 2015, did Bloomingdale’s even read their own ad? Their "spiked eggnog” campaign is a prime example of why marketers need to look beyond their close group of friends and consider broader audience perception. The advertisement featured a man (creepily) looking at a woman who is not paying attention to him. The only copy in the ad is “spike your best friend's eggnog when they're not looking.” If Bloomingdale's tested this campaign in a focus group setting, they wouldn't have had to publicly apologize for their error in judgment relating to rape culture.

Bloomingdales's "Spiked Eggnog" Campaign

3. Bud Light's "Up for Whatever" Campaign

Bud Light’s “Up for Whatever” campaign in 2014 captured the idea of how being “up for whatever” can result in having a fun night. Having Ian Rappaport, a non-actor, featured in a commercial was risky but paid off. The company didn’t know what was going to happen and clearly neither did Ian. The commercial showcased how much fun you could have (because “anything can happen!”) when drinking Bud Light. In 2015, the campaign introduced a new video with an extension of the same idea. But in the new ads, Bud Light claimed it was the perfect beer for “removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” Unfortunately for Bud Light, over the previous months, the consumer landscape had changed with the advent of “No Means No,” a social movement initiated by anti-rape activists. Bud Light had to apologize for leveraging an old (well received) idea without double-checking that the revised concept would land the same way.

Bud Light's "Up for Whatever" Campaign

These creative examples emphasize the importance of getting an objective perspective from your target audience. As Lucky General’s Founder said, "It is basic common sense that if you are surrounded by people who live and breathe your brand when creating an ad, then you're much more prone to disaster."

A third party or independent market research company can be held accountable for listening and making sure the intended message is being received by the right audience.

As a marketing communications agency with our own market research specialists, we never do in-house research to validate our own opinions or recommendations. Objectivity is crucial when it comes to research, and we engage third parties to keep us honest.

Want to make sure your creative testing "t's" are crossed, and "i's" are dotted? Contact us at


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