Upon PepsiCo’s recent release of its new Mountain Dew advertising campaign in March 2013, the company and brand alike are facing significant backlash. The advertisements feature African-American rapper, Tyler the Creator in a series of three ads. Tyler voices an angry goat named, “Felicia,” who is seen beating on women, running from the police, and violently threatening a woman during a police lineup. A majority of the back lash is stemming from Syracuse University Professor, Dr. Boyce Watkins, and the article she wrote titled “Mountain Dew Releases Arguably the Most Racist Commercial in History.” After the release of this article in April 2013, the article went viral and many started to view the commercials in a negative light. Many stating they found the videos to be highly offensive and a portrayal of violence towards women and racial stereotypes.
For PepsiCo the impact from this negative backlash could be dramatic. The brand Mountain Dew accounted for 20 percent of PepsiCo’s beverage sales in 2011 and the company invested 23.6 million dollars on advertising alone for the brand that same year. Mountain Dew has maintained a position as one of the top selling soft soda beverages in the industry for years and PepsiCo cannot afford to lose any of the enormous value the brand holds due to negative publicity.
The public are viewing the advertisements negatively for two main reasons – violence towards women and racial stereotypes. The violence towards women is the first major issue because particularly the first and third commercials in the series. The first commercial portrays a woman not being able to give more Mountain Dew to “Felicia” and then the goat responding by beating her up. The third commercial shows the same woman, battered and on crutches, having to then pick Felicia out of a police lineup, where the goat continues to taunt her with offensive comments. Women viewing this commercial may be highly offended and Mountain Dew’s target audience is not just men. By launching these commercials, many women may see the brand as condoning and even encouraging such behavior towards women – particularly towards white women. Which leads into the second reason the commercials are having negative backlash – the racial stereotypes being portrayed.
In all three of the commercials you see black men in leading roles. In the first commercial a black man and women laugh when Felicia beats on the white waitress over a can of Mountain Dew. In the second commercial, a black male police officer finds the cans of empty Mountain Dew in Felicia’s trunk and attempts to chase and arrest the goat. In the third commercial, and arguably the most offensive when it comes to race, Felicia is seen in a police lineup surrounded entirely by other “hoodlum” black males. It is also extremely clear that Felicia, being voiced by Tyler the Creator, is suppose to be an African-American. This becomes offensive to not only white people but also black people. Mountain Dew’s Caucasian audience may see the commercials as a personal insult to their race and that the brand is condoning negative actions towards them. Mountain Dew’s African-American audience may, in turn, see it as the brand stereotyping their race with the portrayal of a typical, “angry, violent, and loud” black person. The black community may also be offended by the portrayal of their race as “animals.” In either case, Mountain has offended their audience on an extremely personal level regarding their character.
PepsiCo as a company needs to address possible ramifications from these advertisements on the company as a whole and particularly the Mountain Dew brand. As mentioned earlier, Mountain Dew resembles a huge portion of PepsiCo’s revenues. To lose any business in this particular brand segment could be catastrophical for the bottom line. The company also needs to take in consideration what these advertisements could do to the company image as a whole. With as much negative publicity as these ads are causing it could potentially cause some customers to walk away from the company and their support on all the PepsiCo brands.
Again, as already mentioned there are two particular groups that should be focused on when trying to respond to this controversy. First, women as a whole should be paid attention to and it should be made clear that PepsiCo in no way supports violence towards them. The commercials portray violent acts particularly towards women and this may be seen as extremely anti-feminist. In the past few decades there has been a huge push towards feminism and the “strong independent woman.” PepsiCo does not want to attempt to challenge these views and if anything should promote females to leading a stronger, more positive life. The second group that should be focused one is the African-American community. The entire advertisement series played upon stereo typical black roles in society. This may have greatly offended the race as an entirety. PepsiCo does not want to be seen as a company who has racist stereotypes and enjoys reinforcing them to all of society. It is particularly important within the black community to be seen as equals and not looked down upon negatively.
To respond to this controversy PepsiCo needs to act quickly and reach out to the two particulars groups discussed in this memo. One option for the company is to send out a written press release apologizing if they offended any of their customers and also explaining the initial intent behind the commercials. The company needs to explain that their intent was not to promote violence towards women or play on racial stereotypes. Instead, that it was to simply make their audience laugh and heighten awareness about their “quirky” company and brand. PepsiCo could also respond by donating to a women’s charity or an African-American charity. The company could also make sure that customers know the advertisement series has been pulled off the air with news releases or with a new commercial series. All of these possible actions will let their customers they offended know they are thinking about them and taking their feelings into consideration before anything else.
Going forward in the future, PepsiCo needs to make sure they more closely analyze their commercials and advertisements before releasing them to the general public. In this day and age anything that is released virtually is here to stay. The company needs to remember this going forward and realize damage control is getting harder in a society with all their customers constantly being connected. This may mean before any advertisement gets released to the public it needs to be put through various small group testing scenarios. This will help the company ensure they are not offending anyone with the advertisement and ensure they are taking many different types of peoples’ feelings into consideration. To prevent another scenario, such as this, the company could also have their advertisements sent off to a professional agency or various TV broadcasting companies to clear the messages in the advertisement upon its release.