Back in 2017, Pepsi launched a new ad featuring Kendall Jenner. The ad had Jenner come out of a photoshoot to see a demonstration happening on the road, joining that crowd, pick up a chilled can of Pepsi from a well-stocked cooler, and offer the can of cola to one of the guards managing the front line of the cops trying to stop/handle the demonstrators. He accepts it, and cut to… world peace.
The final act by Jenner seemed to have been inspired by the action (and famous photograph) of New York nurse Ieshia Evans.
Related read: Ad-World Insiders on How the Hell That Pepsi Ad Got Made.
The ad was slammed for multiple reasons, though the 2 most common reasons were that it hijacked the Black Lives Matter protests that rocked the USA at that time by appropriating it as a protest that can be handled with just a can of Pepsi.
The other reason was that it was plain absurd (to imagine world peace from a can of Pepsi).
There were boycott calls too, as expected, on social media.
Pepsi noticed the negative reactions and condemnations, and swiftly apologized and removed the ad to not let it do further damage to the brand’s reputation.
Besides the Black Lives Matter connection, the larger issue (not worth a boycott, though; just making fun of it would have been more than adequate) was to offer Pepsi as a solution to strife, when real strife, in the real world, looks very, very different and harmful. To elevate a mere can of cola as a tool to bring peace is absurd to any ad agency, and yet the in-house agency from Pepsi that produced this ad did not find anything wrong with the script! It’s one thing to quench thirst, but to mount your thirst-quencher cola as a world-peace mediator is taking your product way too seriously.
Ironically, here is Coca-Cola taking its product way too seriously in almost the same way.
In a new ad film, made by the agency BETC, called ‘Real Magic – One Coke Away From Each Other’, Coca-Cola uses the world of gaming to demonstrate how the cola brings world peace inside a massively violent game world! The ad features appearances by famous gamers like Alan Walker, Average Jonasas, and Aerial Powers, and is placed inside an imitation of the game, World of Warcraft.
In the ad, one of the gamers who takes a break to pick a bottle of Coke finds that after he has taken a sip, his in-game avatar drops his axe and calls for peace with all the other in-game characters! And they all stop fighting, and cut to… world peace (albeit inside the game world)!
Coke uploaded a 1-minute cut of the ad on YouTube on September 26th, and it has 14K dislikes vs. 1.3K likes.
Coke then uploaded an extended 2-minute cut of the same ad film on September 30th and that has 63K dislikes vs. 4.5K likes!
Multiple variants of the same ad in many other languages have the same trend – more dislikes than likes.
I did not see the ad uploaded on Coca-Cola’s global pages on Instagram or Facebook so far, but on Twitter, where the brand has shared the ad, it has generated uniformly unimpressive reactions.
To be fair to Coca-Cola, the ad film seems largely harmless in that it doesn’t appropriate or trivialize a serious movement like how the Pepsi ad did. So, while there are no boycott calls (thankfully! We have one every day in India, at present, for assorted brands, for hugely imaginative and assorted reasons) the reaction seems largely negative. The most common thread in the negative reactions is that Coca-Cola doesn’t understand how the gaming world operates and it was silly to use in-game action towards a call for world peace.
Again, to be fair to Coca-Cola, calling for world peace, or any kind of peace, inside games or outside in the real world, is very, very welcome in our present times where we take offense quickly and there is real and harmful strife across multiple countries.
But Coca-Cola is a brand of carbonated drink. Yes, it has been advocating ‘happiness’ for a very long time through its advertising, but happiness doesn’t automatically extend to world peace, and definitely not through a bottle of Coca-Cola (that too with seriously questionable health credentials).
It is a stretch that doesn’t seem to have gone down all that well with the gaming community. Coca-Cola hasn’t done anything about the negative feedback from the gaming community because it seems the audience outside the gaming community doesn’t perceive the ad as being silly. The social media monitoring company Talkwalker says the feedback for the ad overall is 63.7% positive and only 3.1% negative.
What is particularly interesting is that this is not the first ad by Coca-Cola to use the product as a tool to bring peace inside a video game!
Way back in 2006, the agency Wieden+Kennedy produced an ad film for Coca-Cola that was placed inside what looked like an imitation of Grand Theft Auto! The lead character in the ad, a man in a leather jacket, who looks a lot like Fido from GTA III, after causing some chaos (like how it happens in the game) walks into a store, picks up a bottle of Coke, pays for it (unlike GTA script), and probably because of the sugar rush, gets all good and helps all the people as he walks in the in-game streets! This is straight out of the recent movie Free Guy, though Guy was a good guy all along.
But the difference between that 2006 effort to use Coke for in-game world peace vs. the 2021 effort for in-game world peace is that the former seems to have been done with a light, humorous touch. It was a good spoofy twist to plug the product, while the 2021 version seems dead serious in its attempt to communicate how a bottle of Coke brings plausible peace even inside a game where every character drops every possible weapon to sing kumbaya.
Given the difference in treatment – laughing at themselves while having fun spoofing vs. passing off a serious message of world peace via Coca-Cola, I can understand the reasons for the negative reactions.