POSTED BY: David Jordan

Aliens invading London and the perils of co-opting social issues

29th May, 2018
Coke Hilltop advert

Aliens invading London and the perils of co-opting social issues

I recently had to carry out research on social media campaigns for a client (I swear it was legitimate work related research – really!) which inevitably led via the Google rabbit hole to examples for big brands with huge budgets that weren’t really related to my original search at all.

One of the most visually impactful and costly examples which I had somehow missed the first time around was #LiveForNow by Pepsi. Their agency created a bus shelter in London that was definitely not a normal bus shelter. Instead it was an AR experience that created the illusion of unbelievable scenarios in the real world, and shared the reactions of people on Twitter and YouTube.

But there’s no such thing as an original idea as this 2015 Norwegian promo for a BBC Natural History programme shows…

However Pepsi have not always had a great track record when it comes to social campaigns. Last year they ran a advert which portrayed Kendall Jenner joining a public protest and diffusing tensions by handing out a can of Pepsi.

In an era of racial tension and a divisive political backdrop in the US having a white model co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement was always going to be a mistake.
To be fair to them, Pepsi did withdraw the campaign and issued an apology: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.”

This PR disaster only served to highlight the Heineken Worlds Apart #OpenYourWorld campaign from later in the year. In Heineken’s campaign they brought together people with diametrically opposing ideologies who talk it out and inevitably come to understand each other better. Think a feminist who meets a guy who hates feminists.

They were constructed and delivered with a sensitivity that contrasted with Pepsi’s poor approach and while they generally received positive feedback it’s hard not to be cynical that the same underlying objectives and motivation that drove Pepsi were also behind Heineken’s campaign. It’s unlikely that a short video can come close to unravel, interpret and suggest solutions to the nuanced issues that divide global society – and sell beer at the same time.

It’s a long way from the 1971 ‘Hilltop’ Coca Cola advert in which a culturally diverse range of young people told us not only did they want to teach the world to sing but also to buy the world a Coke.

To modern eyes it looks innocent but it’s not really too far away from the attempts by brands over the last few years to “project a global message of unity, peace and understanding”. Of course it’s better that they are encouraging peace and understanding rather than jumping on the band wagons of resurgent and divisive populist ideologies.

It could be argued that it was an inspiration for the socially conscious and campaigning adverts that appeared in the years since. United Colours of Benetton took it to another level in the early 80’s by adding an element of controversy to their campaigns (not shown in the video below).

If there is a lesson to be learned it’s that political engagement by any brand is fraught with danger. While it’s laudable for corporate brands to support good causes and promote sustainable values as part of their CSR commitments it’s always a risk that they will be perceived as cynically piggy backing on serious public issues to sell their brand.
Such positioning has to be ingrained as part of their brand and not merely used a strategy to sell their products and services.

David Jordan – Digital Director

David set up the dedicated digital division of Neworld in 1999 and oversees the strategic approach, creative design and technical development of digital projects from websites to moving graphics and on-screen presentations. When not pushing pixels or travelling to other continents, he is likely to be tinkering with computers or watching a cycling race.