In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, influencers have become pivotal players in branding. They come in various forms, from YouTube content creators to Instagram fashionistas and TikTok trendsetters. The magnetism lies in their ability to create authentic connections with their audience, making them relatable and trustworthy conduits for brand messages. They can launch brands into the stratosphere or send them crashing back to earth. Let’s explore a few examples on both sides.
Pepsi’s ‘Protest Sip’ Catastrophe with Kendall Jenner
Tagline: That’s What I Like
Pepsi is the global flag-bearer of youthful exuberance, fun, and an unmistakable zest for life, a tradition it’s upheld since its inception. Established in the late 19th century, Pepsi’s journey is steeped in history and innovation. Pepsi’s core essence is about delivering exhilaration and spontaneity, urging you to seize the present and relish life’s simple pleasures.
Pepsi’s 2017 campaign featuring Kendall Jenner is a classic example of how influencer marketing can sometimes miss the mark. Their tagline, “That’s What I Like,” gives off a vibe of spontaneity and enjoyment. But the ad didn’t quite hit the sweet spot. It showed Jenner handing a Pepsi to a police officer during a protest, which didn’t sit well with many, especially instead of the recent civil protest that had swept the nation. People felt it downplayed real issues, and the ad got much criticism and controversy. From the public eye, it misaligned with Pepsi’s brand identity, which had historically focused on refreshing moments and enjoyment. The sudden departure from their traditional messaging confused customers and critics alike, further intensifying the negative response to the campaign.
Nike’s Kaepernick Kickoff with “Just Do It”
Tagline: Just Do It
Nike’s brand essence celebrates human potential and determination. Nike has continually pushed the boundaries of innovation in sports apparel and footwear, creating a legacy of iconic endorsements and groundbreaking moments. With the enduring motto “Just Do It,” Nike inspires individuals to unleash their inner athlete, breaking barriers and striving for greatness, symbolizing the power of human determination and the pursuit of excellence.
Nike’s 2018 Colin Kaepernick ad campaign, featuring the provocative slogan “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” was a bold and polarizing move that encapsulated the essence of “Just Do It.” The ad aligned the brand with Kaepernick’s message of social justice and the right to free expression, positioning Nike as a fearless advocate for justice, equality, and individual beliefs. This boldness led to strong reactions, with some consumers boycotting the brand while others responded with increased sales and loyalty. The ad showcased Nike’s willingness to embrace a powerful social cause, even at the risk of alienating some consumers, and, in doing so, demonstrated the brand’s unwavering commitment to the spirit of “Just Do It” – pushing boundaries, taking risks, and standing up for what one believes in, regardless of the consequences.
Budlight v. Mulvaney
Tagline: Easy To Drink. Easy To Enjoy.
Bud Light is a leading light beer brand under Anheuser-Busch. It was crafted to meet the demand for a lighter, lower-calorie beer and has consistently maintained its position as one of the best-selling beers in the United States. Throughout its history, Bud Light’s branding has focused on its lightness and drinkability, reflected in iconic slogans like “The light beer with the first name in taste” and “Here we go.” Known for its approachable flavor and broad consumer appeal, Bud Light has expanded its offerings with various brand extensions and flavors.
The Bud Light Dylan Mulvaney controversy began in April 2023, when Bud Light partnered with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney to promote the brand during March Madness. Mulvaney posted a video on Instagram featuring a Bud Light can with her face on it, which sparked a furor on the political right, which criticized the company for being “too woke.” The backlash was swift and severe. Conservative commentators and politicians called for a boycott of Bud Light, and some retailers even pulled the beer from their shelves. Mulvaney herself was also subjected to a wave of hate and violent threats.
While Bud Light’s initial intentions were rooted in a desire to show solidarity and support for the LGBTQ+ community, they lost touch with a significant portion of their consumer base. The controversy revealed a misalignment between the brand’s well-intentioned messaging and the expectations of a more diverse and politically polarized customer base. As the backlash grew, Bud Light found itself in a delicate position. The company asserted that it “supports the LGBTQ+ community” but acknowledged that Mulvaney’s video “did not resonate with all of our consumers.” The controversy had a significant impact on Bud Light sales. Following the backlash, Bud Light sales fell by more than 10% in the quarter. The brand’s market share declined, losing its spot as the top-selling beer in the United States.
In the ever-evolving world of marketing, influencers wield immense power. They bring authenticity and reach to brands, boosting loyalty and sales. But there’s a catch. Influencers can lead to incongruence and backlash if not carefully chosen or aligned with the brand’s values. It’s a powerful dance, and the key lies in using influencers judiciously to strike the right chord, amplifying your branding efforts while avoiding potential pitfalls.