#PepsiLivesMatter Highlights the Lack of Diversity within Ad Agencies

In what has been a surprise to seemingly no one of color, yet another global brand has put out another tone-deaf ad that went viral for all of the wrong reasons, embarrassed the brand and the celebrities involved, and ultimately had to be pulled off of the air.

In case you have been living under a rock (or in this case, inside of a Pepsi bottle?), you have probably seen the ad now dubbed “#PepsiLivesMatter”, in which Kendell Jenner was able to erase decades of pain and frustration between minorities, protestors and the police force with a can of Pepsi.

Even Bernice King, daughter of the great Martin Luther King Jr., was amazed at the audacity of anyone who thought that this ad should’ve seen the light of day.

In his monologue on Wednesday, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel questioned the thought process of those in charge of putting #PepsiLivesMatter in the light. “The fact that this somehow made it through — I can’t imagine how many meetings, and edits, and pitches, and then got the thumbs-up from who know’s how many people is absolutely mind-boggling,” said Kimmel.

Well Jimmy, I can tell you why this ad, and others like it, keep getting the thumbs up:

The Lack of Diversity in Ad Agencies

A few years ago, I was asked to consult on a national campaign geared towards black teens, that was currently being designed by two creative agencies. To my surprise, there was NOT ONE black man or woman in either agency on staff.

Pepsi’s in-house creative team, the Creators League Studio, dreamed up the #PepsiLivesMatter concept, which the company said the day before the final ad’s release “takes a more progressive approach to truly reflect today’s generation and what living for now looks like.”

It was “today’s generation” that mocked the ad into oblivion.

Even more telling is the fact that the thought leaders credited with the ad — creative director Pete Kasko, director Michael Bernard, executive producer Ben Freedman, agency creative director Kristin Patrick, agency executive producer Ally Polly and agency producer Allison Sipes — are all white.

Here are the facts: ad agencies & communications firms are hired to come up with creatively progressive ways to tell a brands story. Brands are consistently looking for ways to tap into the spending power of millennials, who want to align with companies that share their unique values and connect to causes.

It’s this deep, emotional connection that brands want to tap into, but celebrating culture means being authentic. When you don’t have any ties to the culture you are trying to tap into, things can go woefully bad.

Black Americans, Latinos, Asians, Muslims, the LGBTQ community — these are all extremely relevant, powerful voices within our society, and the uncomfortable truth is that the special world of advertising and creativity is led by people who don’t fit into any of these categories. Rooms full of straight, white males are crafting messaging and visuals that are unintentionally disrespectful to entire communities.

Diversity in advertising no longer means putting rappers and athletes in your “black” commercials that play on BET, because people see through that practice now, and it has forced ad agencies to start trying to tap into sensitive topics within the most diverse generation in our nation’s history.

It’s safe to assume that there was no person of color in the room when Adidas decided to launch their “shackle sneakers”, which didn’t become anything less than a huge PR disaster; seen as insensitive, racist and in poor judgement.

As the minority becomes the majority, it’s disturbing to know that African Americans are the only minority group to see a decrease in representation(currently at 5.85%).

It’s also strange that women make up 80% of consumer purchasing power & influence, but represent a whopping 3% of the creative directors — the actual person in an advertising company that comes up with the concepts that brands use to push their products & services.

There also is no excuse, since a simple Google search pulls up diversity articles about ad agencies from the 70s. At this point, it’s safe to assume that these companies can make a change, they just don’t want to.

At This Point, Diversity Will Probably Help You Make More Money

If you run a brand or are trying to sell a product, or work for one of the ad agencies that they hire, start realizing that the stories you want to tell need to be crafted by the people who actually lived in, or have some real-life knowledge of the culture.

Also, it’s time to understand that culture and identity is not monolithic, in the sense that there are all types of people within subsets of identification — one size and message doesn’t fit all.

When people feel that a brand not only shares his or her values , but also reps the culture they live, respectfully, they tend to go far and above when it comes to supporting the message.

I wonder how much longer major brands will keep paying agencies that are monolithic in hiring practices to create advertising that speaks to many different facets of people.

Or maybe we will just find the answer out when the next big brand pushes out a disrespectful commercial and goes viral for all the wrong reasons.