Why Pepsi Failed and Heineken Succeeded

Recently, Pepsi tried to give peace and understanding to the world at a time when everyone seems divided. It’s a wonderful idea that worked beautifully in the 70’s for Coca-Cola’s I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing commercial and set afire ancient forms of social media.

Not only did Pepsi not succeed in recreating Coca-Cola’s global sensation, they failed so horribly that the Internet united and the ad was taken down in record time. The social media backlash was so great that on YouTube alone, the video had over 150,000 down votes compared to 30,000 up votes.  You can view it here.

But this is not a story about Pepsi—it’s a story about overselling and not knowing how to speak to your audience. The blatant product placement, the over-paid model/reality star, and obligatory casting all came together in a perfect storm to create an inauthentic monstrosity that appeared to mock modern issues more than it seemed to understand them.

So why did Heineken tackle the same issues and do what Pepsi couldn’t?

Heineken wasn’t trying to sell anything—at least, not directly. They didn’t use blatant product placement. In fact, their product doesn’t even show up until the end of the video and when it does, it’s not placed in the perfect position for the camera. They didn’t use an over-paid actress. They used people, like those you’d find next door. They put these very genuine people in a situation where they had to come to terms with themselves and gave them the option of overcoming their flaws. Everything was real, authentic, and honest.

Mostly though, Heineken told a story that allowed the audience to be part of the journey—that allowed the audience to draw their own conclusions. And it was beautiful. Watch the Heineken ad.


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Audiences Respond to Authenticity

What this shows us is that the current environment demands that our marketing efforts, from social media marketing to branding and advertising, is hungry for authentic brands that are in it with us. In fact, Facebook’s carousel and canvas ads are trying to fill this niche and provide a canvas (sorry, had to do it) for brands to paint their own authentic pictures. The most successful social media platforms are those that allow their members to be real and tell their own stories.

The real reason Heineken succeeded where Pepsi couldn’t is because they started a conversation. The reaction on social sites then propagated that conversation and the story spread. This gets to the heart of the global audience and what they are telling us they want to connect to. Social media marketing and other advertising efforts should pick up on this and use it to their advantage if they want to succeed in the tough landscape of today’s content marketing machine. Your audience will respond better, in more surprisingly positive ways, if you leverage the various mediums of marketing and advertising and spark real, authentic, and honest conversation.

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