That’s how long it took for Pepsi to pull their “Jump In” ad spot last week amidst mass social media backlash over its apparent insensitivity and overall “tone-deafness” toward the Black Lives Matter and other culturally driven movements against police brutality. By now I’m sure that we’ve all seen the ad, which features reality TV star and model Kendall Jenner abandoning her photo shoot (and blonde wig in the process) to join a passing protest march in the city streets. Jenner slowly makes her way through the crowd of culturally diverse individuals exalting for peace and love to hand a police officer a can of Pepsi. The crowd rejoices!
Saturday Night Live had its fun with the ad, and Pepsi has even acknowledged that it “clearly…missed the mark.” Truth is, the company’s action to pull the spot so quickly after what had to have been months of preparation and millions in advertising expenditures shines a light on the blatant disconnect between its core message and the viewer.
So how did we get here? How did this idea make it outside of the walls at Pepsi HQ and into mainstream media?
Pepsi’s “creative miss” and subsequent fallout highlights some of the dangers brands face in utilizing their own in-house marketing teams. According to a 2015 article by Harvard Business Review, 27% of companies opted to keep marketing communications in-house rather than outsource to external agencies; a 14% increase over previous year. While there are certain benefits to this type of strategy, there are also some pretty glaring disadvantages.
1. Lack of Objectivity
Something that was painfully apparent in the case of Pepsi, was the lack of external perspective or an “outside voice.” In-house marketing teams spend so much time living and breathing their own brand that they tend to fall into the Groupthink trap – I’m awesome. You’re awesome. We’re all awesome. – and creative can suffer as a result. The fact that agencies are on the outside looking in allows them to provide objective viewpoints and act as a sounding board for some of the riskier ideas to ensure that brand messaging resonates with the target audience.
2. Narrow Expertise
Sure, many larger companies hire talented marketing professionals, but what you’ll likely find is that the collective skillset is rather broad and lacking specialized expertise. This can result in longer project timelines, missed deadlines and even wasted creative opportunities. Identifying and targeting the most effective marketing channels requires extensive research, which can be daunting. That’s why successful agencies tend to place a premium on attracting the right talent with experience developing and implementing measurable, research-based brand strategies.
Partnering with an external agency connects brands to a team of highly competitive, skilled marketing consultants with a wide range of unique expertise across multiple industries and platforms. In-house marketing teams also tend not to have the same level of exclusive access to artists and designers, seasoned media specialists, and research and data material as agencies, which can put them at a disadvantage when it’s time to formulate an effective communications strategy.
3. Greater Time and Cost Concerns
Companies can save time and money by keeping their marketing communications in-house, right? Wrong. That’s a common misconception. Investing in an external agency allows companies to focus on other initiatives critical to growing their business instead of dedicating the time and resources required to develop and implement effective brand strategies. By outsourcing marketing responsibilities, companies not only save money in employee salaries, benefits, and overhead costs, but also in direct purchases on advertising programs. Many agencies have formed deep media relationships over time, leading to discounted ad placement for companies versus if they were to deal with the outlets themselves directly.
It’s true that more companies are rethinking their marketing strategies and choosing to keep communications in-house rather than outsource to external agencies. But as we saw with Pepsi, there are some legitimate concerns with this approach. Brand Managers and CMOs should carefully evaluate some of the risks and drawbacks before making the move.