Sometimes you’ve gotta wonder: What were you thinking? Get caught up in the moment? Unable to break away from that killer (of careers) idea? In my mind, this is the only way that I can rationalize the most recent Pepsi campaign. It must have been the unfortunate result of Groupthink. Too much time cooped up in one room, feeling like you and your coworkers are riding a wave of brilliance. “This is it! It’s topical! It’s smart!” I love people describing it as tone-deaf,
because that’s so what it is.
First off, me saying this branding decision was the result of groupthink is a very forgiving stance. It assumes that, in an effort to reach a consensus, the marketing team did away with rational thought. According to Irving Janis, the man who coined the term, groupthink exhibits eight symptoms. The most relevant of these, to the Pepsi campaign, are symptoms one, two, three and six.
Symptom one is ‘invulnerability.’ This is when group members share, “an illusion of invulnerability that provides for them some degree of reassurance about obvious dangers and leads them to become over-optimistic and willing to take extraordinary risks.”
Symptom two is ‘rationale.’ This is when group members, “collectively construct rationalizations in order to discount warnings and other forms of negative feedback that, taken seriously, might lead the group members to reconsider their assumptions.”
Symptom three is ‘morality.’ This is when group members, “believe unquestionably in the inherent morality of their in-group. This belief inclines the members to ignore the ethical and moral consequences of their decisions.”
Symptom six is ‘self-censorship.’ This is when group members, “avoid deviating from what appears to be group consensus; they keep silent about their misgivings and even minimize the importance of their doubts.”
Janis refers to the ‘victims’ of groupthink. Again, to me, a very forgiving stance when applied to the Pepsi marketing team. Nonetheless, ignoring the exploitive social implications of a brand trying to blindly align itself with movements it clearly doesn’t fully understand, maybe they all just got, as Usher says, ‘caught up.’
On the flip side, SNL released an awesome digital short on the controversy, pinning the incident on one, unassuming, first time director: