What Do Pepsi and Shea Moisture’s Recent Issues Teach Us About Brand Authenticity?

Pepsi was recently in a soup as it tried to hop on to the activist bandwagon and released what critics called a ‘tone deaf’ advert with Kendall Jenner. It appeared to solve police brutality issues, trivializing the black lives matter movement with a can of Pepsi. Yesterday another casualty to extreme social media led criticism was Shea moisture, that showed an ad featuring several white women, when its primary base has always been African-American. The ad was slashed as its community called out the brand for whitewashing and gentrification. Both Shea moisture and Pepsi took the ads out and apologized. These are large brands and everyone makes mistakes. But they also give us an opportunity to think about brand authenticity. How do you maintain authenticity and trust as a personal or professional brand?

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 What Do Pepsi and Shea Moisture's Recent Issues Teach Us About Brand Authenticity

3 Things Critical for Brand Authenticity

1. Do espouse issues but with empathy

Many pertinent issues in the world need our support and voice. No brands – personal or professional, small or large businesses are apolitical. If you choose to stay away from politics or espousing issues that matter, it is also a political choice of staying neutral. Reflect on what you believe in and what works for you. If you’re taking a stand, do not appropriate someone else’s issues, culture. Race, gender and other such themes are not struggles that can be trivialized. Your brand does not need to be in the forefront of every single issue facing our species right now. But as humans and brands, it is important to use empathy as a lens through which we see the world and communicate. You don’t need to solve all world issues. You need to solve unique challenges that your brand connects with. But stay empathetic to other causes.

2. Accept mistakes and be ready to apologize when needed

Brands as large as Pepsi with hundreds of thousands of branding executives and all the amazing marketing support in the world can fail. It is important to know when you’ve missed the beat, react to the social community and apologize. This sounds intuitive, but we also recently saw United that did not pass on the memo internally and had customer care staff justify their poor behavior. Even the CEO’s apology did not appear to salvage the situation immediately. It’s critical to stay alert, and acknowledge what others are saying. Brands that accept mistakes tend to dig themselves out of a hole much better. You’re not in the business of offending people. You’re in the business of solving unique challenges with your products. Keep that central to your brand philosophy.

3. Stay true to your values instead of newsjacking for the sake of virality

It’s easy to be sitting in a marketing room and brainstorm about things that’ll give your brand instant fame. But try to think long term. Brands take years to be built and are destroyed in a few social seconds of missteps. Do not fall prey to short term viral strategies that may cause more harm than you’re prepared to handle. Always maintain focus on your brand values and the core of what makes you, you. Brands that are trusted stay consistent and communicate in expected, delightful ways. It’s important to keep sight of that.

What’s your take on brand authenticity?



Upasna Kakroo

Upasna co-founded Brandanew in 2014 for the sheer love of storytelling and authentic connections. She has been blogging and documenting digital stories since 2003.