Mountain Dew online ad screams ‘what were they thinking?’


Mountain Dew’s demographic won’t get caught watching the evening news, reading a newspaper or even sharing meal pictures on Facebook.

But that’s no excuse for the Pepsi division’s latest ad, which on its surface is racist — and we could end the discussion there. But it also makes light of abused women. And, as if going for the grand slam of inappropriateness, it’s ineffective, stupid and confusing.

This is a classic self-imposed crisis, the kind we preach about avoiding because, well, they’re so avoidable. Don’t make a racist ad. Simple, right?

In other words, it hurts the brand, doesn’t sell the product and even the waves it created won’t sell soft drinks through a publicity  backlash or niche coolness either. There are actually three ads, involving a goat, a beaten woman and a police lineup. It’s a bad, bad joke.

Pepsi took it off the ‘net and apologized. What Pepsi needs is one of Will Smith’s ‘make them forget’ neuralyzer pens from the Men in Black films. It’s that terrible.

In Mountain Dew’s case, the ad’s maker was rapper Tyler the Creator. Sometimes companies try to cross cultural boundaries they aren’t knowledgeable in, just to be “cool.” They don’t think it through.

In a statement to AdWeek, a Pepsi representative said, “We understand how this video could be perceived by some as offensive, and we apologize to those who were offended. We have removed the video from all Mountain Dew channels and have been informed that Tyler is removing it from his channels as well.”

[That’s “Tyler.” Our buddy. Our homie. Aren’t we cool? If we could find the ‘hood we’d fit in there. Even the apology reeks.]

Thanks to my friend and former colleague, and newly named Buffalo Niagara Partnership President and CEO Dottie Gallagher-Cohen for sharing this flap. Her skill and values will do well at the Partnership.

But back to the Dew crew screw[up]. PR Daily quoted a professor:

Syracuse University professor Boyce Watkins called the ad “arguably the most racist commercial in history.”

He added: “Of course, in the world of Mountain Dew, every single suspect is black. Not just regular black people, but the kinds of ratchety negroes you might find in the middle of any hip-hop minstrel show.”

As PR Daily noted, Dew is not alone in self-generated crises.

General Motors pulled an ad of its own this week, one for the Chevrolet Trax sport utility vehicle. It included a song about the “land of Fu Manchu” and included the lyrics “ching, ching, chop-suey.” The ad was only shown in Canada and Europe, but the South China Morning Post picked up the ad and called it racist. GM is trying to expand its sales in China.

That flap isn’t unlike the one Ford experienced—and handled pretty well—back in March. Its ads, created by an Indian advertising firm and not commissioned by Ford, depicted bound-and-gagged women in the trunk of a car.

There are enough real crises companies have to deal with. People need to wake up and smell reality. Does anyone do focus groups anymore?

I wanted to ask my two 20-something sons, clearly Dew’s demo, what they think of the ads. But it’s 8:30 a.m. on a Friday and they’re probably still in bed. Thankfully.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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