Friday, 7 April 2017

Pepsi Demonstrates Why In-House Creative Departments Can't Work

6 MIN. READ   Yeah, that Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad SUCKED. That’s what you get when you bring creative in-house, Pepsi. It’s inevitable because that formula simply cannot work, for reasons I’ll explain.


The Extermination of the Client Service Buffer 

Yay! Now our Brand Managers can talk directly to the Creatives and eliminate that useless function of Account Managers!” What the clients don’t get is that these ‘handlers’ played a far more important role than they could grasp. Those so-called ‘suits’ and ‘bag carriers’ were:
  • A shoulder to cry on.
  • Buffers against criticism.
  • Cheerleaders and pep-talkers.
  • Strategic guides.
  • Punching bags.
  • Project Managers.
  • The ‘warm-up band.’
  • The ones who demanded that more than one concept got presented.
  • Time-buyers.
  • Negotiators.
  • Sources of inspiration.
Without them the creatives have nowhere to hide to lick their wounds, or create. Good luck with that.


It's Been Attempted Before -- Never Successfully

My worst experience in agency work ever was with CIL Paints here in Toronto. Worst EVER (and I spent 6 years in Cancun selling agency services to entitled and astonishingly arrogant third generation children of Mexico's 1% families). CIL is basically a chemical company. Its ranks are filled with chemical engineers and chemists. Guess what their favorite task at work is? Getting the chance to "input on creative." Believe it or not, every new packaging design and advertisement concept gets circulated to a bunch of these folks and each one is empowered to 'comment.' Ever wonder why paint can labels look so entirely uninspired? That's why.

To demonstrate just how 'creative' the folks at CIL are, back in the late 80's they decided all this baloney of putting up with creative prima donnas from agencies and their snooty attitude towards the nay-saying from the CIL battery of 'clients' was to create their own in-house 'agency.' Wasn't too long before every single new designer, copywriter and art director ran out the doors screaming, so they went back to farming the work out, but as of a few years back they were still circulating all the proposals for internal 'input' and getting sad design as a result.


In-House Content Creation Client-Side

So what's the newest trend in this decade? In-house content creation. Why farm it out when you can just hire a bunch of low-cost copywriters and have them crank out posts and tweets day in and day out. Back in 2014 Pepsi did this with the high-minded idea, apparently generated by the visionary Brad Jakeman, that they could create marketing efforts that were more like Red Bull's, who has an in-house agency. Sadly there seems to be a fundamental difference between the work that Red Bull Creative cranks out and that of Pepsi's 'Creators League Studio.'


“The Creators League Studio”

Really? I'm pretty sure that name illustrates just what's wrong with the underlying concept for this corporate department, and that it starts with Brad Jakeman. While Red Bull started out as an unknown little brand that HAD to 'find its wings' before it could fly and has a strong, young, disruptive internal ethic, Pepsi’s marketing team is a department within a global corporate giant, a department led by an (apparently) cantankerous, late-career wannabe visionary trying to emulate the breakout star in his category. Pepsi is trying too hard, and it shows up in this sad ad (but then Jakeman is in the unenviable position of having to be Trump-like in an effort to look like a hero to his CEO and board and thus defer his inevitable firing for as long as possible).


Self-Love Feels SO Good!

I can tell you what comes out of a team who only works on a single brand and has a name like “The Creators League,” they believe in the power of their own snake oil. And how can they not? They have only each other and a single brand to focus on every day. A HUGE element of what empowers the creativity in any agency is the fact (downplayed to the clients) that everyone gets exposed to multiple brands and categories every day. Yes, Pepsi may have a wide lineup of brands that includes Dorritos with its success at UGC, but I’d bet that the people who worked on this Kendall Jenner ad focus on nothing but Pepsi 24/7.


Drinking the Corporate Koolaid

The other major psychological barrier any in-house department faces is the internal Koolaid. To get anything improved you have to first get senior management to buy into the concept first. I’d make another bet that whatever the insights were that led to this naïve piece, they were heavily referenced with management repeatedly leading up to the development of the concept and, given the constraint of buying into the insight, the final concept was a foregone conclusion. Using an external agency means working with a group that is immersed in a deep soup of diverse new insights every day and they are constantly holding their ideas up to the filter of what is happening all around them.


Comfort vs. Healthy Self-Doubt

Agencies have one powerful motivator going for them: the door. It will hit them in the ass as they get directed out if their work isn’t hitting the mark, not so for an internal team. The Creators League are full-time Pepsi employees with stock options and pensions, protected in a way any real agency team is not. They may get very excited over the thrill of concocting and producing a big new TV spot, but the nagging discomfort that lives in the back of the minds of experienced agency folks is something I’m certain The Creators League was free of, as was demonstrated by a press release that went out when the spot aired that rings just a bit smug, supremely confident that they have it all figured out and have hit the nail on the head:

Pepsi Press Release: April 4, 2017 /PRNewswire/ 

Throughout 2017, Pepsi® is celebrating life's "Live For Now" moments. Moments when we decide to let go, choose to act, follow our passion and nothing holds us back. "Jump In," a short film that depicts these moments and stars Kendall Jenner, captures the spirit and actions of those people that jump in to every moment. It features multiple lives, stories and emotional connections that show passion, joy, unbound and uninhibited moments. No matter the occasion, big or small, these are the moments that make us feel alive.

The "Jump In" Pepsi Moments film takes a more progressive approach to truly reflect today's generation and what living for now looks like. Kendall is the latest in an impactful line-up of global icons to work with Pepsi and she exemplifies owning "Live For Now" moments. 

The commercial features music from a voice of today's generation, the artist behind "Lions"- Skip Marley (Island Records). 

The creative, which will be seen globally across TV and digital, was produced by PepsiCo's in-house content creation arm, Creators League Studio. It showcases elements of the Pepsi disruptive design program that combines icons with expressive typography to capture the moments that ignite action. Moments iconography will be across packaging, out of home and in-store for the full Pepsi trademark of blue, black and silver offerings.


Swimming in a Sea of Nay-Sayers

I predict that we are going to see clients learning that truly strategically creative brains are rare and thrive only in an atmosphere free of corporate nay-sayers. I’ve worked with them for several decades, day in, day out, and I can attest to the fact that they need special handling if you want to get the most out of them. Even housed in separate, trendy, ‘creative’ spaces, if their salary depends upon them getting approval on their concepts from the same execs responsible for signing their paychecks, three things are going to happen:
  1. We’re going to see a bunch of really bad ideas being foisted upon us, just like this Pepsi ad.
  2. A lot of really great strategically creative people are going to quit working for these in-house ‘agencies’ (a misnomer, so ‘studio’ is indeed more appropriate) in frustration.
  3. The people who continue to work for them will prove to be tradespeople, not the deeply strategic and brilliantly creative artists that every brand needs to generate really breakthrough ideas. 
The reality is that the old agency model worked for many good reasons, but was killed off by Capitalism: the demand by shareholders who control gradually larger and larger, and therefore more influential, global marketers all demanding 10% growth per year. This happens, in part, through cutting costs by forcing all the profit, and therefore the high salaries the really genius people command, out of the agencies.

The downward cycle of cost cutting forced upon the agencies pushed those who really are strategic and creative geniuses out of the business. The clients then began complaining about the decline in creativity (not clear if they noticed the lack of strategic thinking…) that their cost-cutting efforts had precipitated. I find it sadly ironic that their solution is now to try to create their own agencies in-house, but what essential, fundamental element is missing from their new model?  See "Client Service" in the first point above.
Kevin is an inventor. An inventor of concepts and breakthrough solutions. Want more of his insights and how they can help your marketing efforts? Book a conversation with him today. Some topics you might engage him about:
  1. “Bubbles Burst, Always” – The US economy is set to explode very soon, have you and your company prepared for the inevitable crash?
  2. “The Diversity that Cannot be Named” – A look back at the evolution of human behaviour and how we’re missing opportunities to work together more effectively and honestly.
  3. “The Death of the Ad Agency Model was Instigated in 1992, Giving Birth to What?” – A new MarCom Agency business model for your consideration.
  4. “It’s the Brand Experience, Stupid!” – Today’s focus on ‘one-on-one engagement’ was initiated in 1997 in “The Experience Economy” and it will eventually grab the biggest slice of the media pie, we just got distracted by ‘shiny and new’ for the past 20 years.

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