Pepsi has joined the Woke Olympics

Woke (adj): being aware (Relating to Racism and Social Injustice)

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Maybe you’ve seen the worst ad of 2017 but if you haven’t, we’d advise you not to. In a nutshell, it was Pepsi’s attempt to be socially conscious and appear ‘woke’ but they didn’t convince anyone.

The term woke first arose in the publics’ conscious in 2008 when singer Erykah Badu recorded her song ‘Master Teacher’ to take “the responsibility to talk for my race and my planet”. From that black people began urging each other to stay woke but reviewers criticised Erykah for speaking improperly, an age-old criticism of black people in America.

It was then revived in 2013, when the murder of Trayvon Martin sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and followers urged each other to stay woke, a call to remain vigilant but also keep safe. At its inception, the word is deeply rooted in resistance and struggle but like many authentic creations it wrongly gets appropriated into the mainstream.

It is cool to be woke and this word has become a guiding principle for a generation that has awoken to the reality of the world and developed a new consciousness that knows they are being sold to. A movement.

It’s cool be socially conscious, to fight for equality and care for the environment. Obviously, this opens an opportunity for brands that want to appeal to a younger generation, but it can dangerously backfire when you don’t understand them, especially when you are using their own values to undermine them.

Pepsi has swiftly removed their ad and apologised for causing offense. Perhaps they should be forgiven because all they wanted to do is to share a message of unity, peace and understanding. They’ve held their hands up and admitted to missing the mark and making light of serious issues.

Despite their sincerity, their biggest offense was their use of genuine causes and societal issues, to sell a can of Pepsi. Little did they realise, their own level of insensitivity is what people need to be vigilant of.

Brands have turned this authentic movement into a meaningless trend. They need to understand that there is an incredible opportunity to represent a wider audience of different generations, races, beliefs and values but to successfully do so, they need to understand them within their own context and not as a tick box that fulfils a quota.

Brands like Nike have successfully appealed to a diverse generation by tapping into their deep-rooted experiences and shared values, reflecting more meaning back to their audience. With the right tools, research and creativity we believe you can do so too.