Put a fearless girl in front of a charging bull, and change a charging bull forever.
By now, you may have heard of the “Fearless Girl” statue that was placed before the iconic “Charging Bull” on Wall Street last month by State Street Global Advisors. The girl was quickly hailed by feminists as a symbol of women’s rights and gender inequality in the face of male-dominated board rooms. The bull’s sculptor Di Modica, however, is not sharing the love. He has stated that, “the bull represents strength … the strength of America, the strength of the market.” He is the artist. He should know. And yet… what he should have said is that that is what he intended the bull to represent.
After all, the communication of intended meaning is a tricky business. In the end, interpretation is king, and that interpretation is often out of your control. Put a defiant, hands-on-her hips girl in front of a charging bull, and suddenly people see not a bull, but a bully. No matter the original intention of the communicator.
Speaking of intended meanings gone awry, anyone catch Pepsi’s latest “short film”? It was a marketing gaffe that united the Internet in a firestorm of near-gleeful contempt. An ad so off the mark, you can literally google “tone-deaf ad” and stories of the Pepsi debacle line up for your reading enjoyment. And yet—unsurprisingly—to create viral hate was not Pepsi’s intention. Pepsi intended, in their words, to “project a global message of unity, peace and understanding.”
Cue my interest. Here at aasman, we are all about intention. “Branding on purpose” is our daily mantra. Purpose drives all our work. And so when a powerhouse brand’s intentions so drastically miss the mark, I take notice. Stripping the story down to the basics, here are my two key Pepsi-gaffe takeaways for all marketers big and small.
1. Do your due diligence
George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I keep that quote beside me at the office as a daily reminder. Simply put, don’t assume people are going to get it. Before you send a message out into the world, get an outside perspective on your work. Someone not emotionally or creatively connected. Pepsi made this mistake and paid the price. Terry O’Reilly said in an interview with CBC that by doing the ad in-house, they lost objectivity, adding, “It makes Pepsi feel so self-important that it’s hard to watch.” Make sure your message is communicating what you intended before it goes live to the masses.
2. Be humble in the face of mistakes
To their credit, Pepsi, within 24 hours, performed a full mea culpa, removed the offensive ad, and swallowed their financial losses. They put the mistake squarely behind them, and are no doubt busy strategizing their next step forward. In this socially driven era, yesterday’s slip ups—when handled well—are quickly forgotten for today’s fresh bungles.
So get out there, and communicate like you mean it. Do the hard work before you launch. And then be prepared to roll with the punches. Because there’s a lot of bull out there these days. And the world is having none of it.
**cover photo courtesy of bostonglobe.com