10 Steps to Avoiding the Same Mistake as Pepsi, Skittles & McDonald's

May 18, 2017 - 3 minute read

Another day, another big budget advertising campaign pulled and apology issued. This time it’s McDonald’s feeling the glare of an uncomfortable limelight.


They ran an ad that detractors have said ‘exploits childhood bereavement’ for commercial gain, upsetting a lot of grieving children in the process. They’ve now pulled the ad and apologised.

Just a few days earlier, timed for Mother’s Day in the US, Skittles ran an ad that was ‘disturbing’ to use the words of DigitalSpy. Result? The ad was withdrawn, plenty of negative social and press attention, and a sort-of apology.

Casting back just a little further, it was Pepsi that kicked off the season for forehead-slapping ads by generating an impressive online backlash with their commercial, suggesting that the kinds of difficult, thorny issues provoking protests around the world could be solved by sharing a Pepsi.

This led to the ad being pulled and a public apology being issued.

So all-in-all, not a great few weeks for consumer brands trying to find new, impactful ways to get their message across.

You’ve got to ask, to what extent did they actually test their ideas with consumers and include them in the creative process?

Which is, of course, the answer to avoiding their mistakes.

At a more practical level, here’s a simple way to avoid the expense of pulled ads and the cringe of a public apology. 

How to build creative campaigns hand in hand with consumers

  1. Define your audience. Know who it is you’re wanting to target, so you craft a narrative around their worldview, and brainstorm with the people that matter most to your business.
  2. Decide what kind of emotions your ad should elicit. For many consumer brands, you won’t be able to drive a direct Call To Action, which means you need to deliver a message that represents your brand. Whether it’s happiness, humour, angst, excitement or any other emotion, you need to have that in mind before you even start the process.
  3. What should the viewer remember most about it? Emotions are important, but alone they won’t move your product or service off the shelf. You also need people to recall a specific message. Should they finish watching and know your company’s ‘Why,’ or that you just released a new product, or something else?
  4. With your goals and target audience in mind, use Attest to brainstorm a few open-ended ideas with 50-100 of your target audience. Ask questions like ‘what’s the best ad you saw recently’ followed by ‘what did you like about it?’ Or ‘why kinds of movies do you love to watch’? This will give you a better sense of what media your audience like and don’t like.
  5. Discuss the ideas and feedback internally and come up with a shortlist of potential ideas. Storyboard them graphically, or simply write down a basic concept.
  6. Validate the concepts with the same target audience you brainstormed with. Upload your storyboards for direct feedback, or ask how they feel about the concept behind your script.
  7. Produce your creative, and then test it with a wider sample of people (after all, everyone has access to YouTube) - say 1000 - and ask for their reactions.
  8. Check their emotional reaction and recall match up to the outcomes you wanted. Segment reactions by your target audiences.
  9. If you get the kind of reaction you’re looking for, then go ahead and run the ad with confidence.
  10. If you don’t, iterate and repeat until you’ve got a strong ad that works for your brand and your target audience. 
The simplest way to avoid the kind of negative backlash faced by McDonald’s, Skittles and Pepsi is to ensure consumers both in and outside of your target market are included every step of the way during the planning and creative process.

And if one of the big barriers to getting that feedback is a looming deadline, using a service like Attest means you don’t have to worry about delaying your campaign.

While a traditional market research firm could takes weeks to give you the results, our respondents can give you high quality, reliable (and qualitative) feedback in a matter of hours, so you can work to your existing deadline without delay. 

Planning your next creative push? Get your consumers involved today.

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My first pick is Pepsi. Lets be honest, Pepsi had an awful 2017 from a brand perspective, they created what they thought was going to be a work of advertising art, an ad that would change the world, but instead it turned them into a global laughing stock.
This is also on a backdrop of huge backlash and increased legislation against sugary drinks. The days when all they had to worry about was competing against Coca-Cola are probably looked on with nostalgia by the marketing team. However Pepsi are a brand with true marketing pedigree, iconic campaigns, partnerships and experiences.
I’m really interested to see how they come back. The test of a great brand is how they react when they are at their lowest. I will be watching Pepsi closely in 2018 to see what they have planned.

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