PepsiCo has found itself at a crossroads regarding its now infamous “Amp up before you score” iPhone app. The NC-17 rated application offers pick-up lines, strategies for picking up married women, a scorecard for sexual conquests and other edgy content.
After PepsiCo received complaints that the app reinforced stereotypes about women, the company tweeted an apology as well as posted an explanation on Amp’s Facebook page. Still, the app remains available much to the disdain of some.
“The app hasn’t been pulled so the apology is disingenuous, is it not?” said Lynne Johnson, svp, social media for the Advertising Research Foundation. “It’s time to pull it and go back to the drawing board.”
Amp is currently the No. 4 selling energy drink in terms of volume. At a 9 percent share of the category for the first half of the year in major retail channels, per Beverage Digest, it is far behind Monster, Red Bull and Rockstar. Still, unlike most carbonated beverages it is actually growing. Its volume was up 4 percent for the first half.
The brand has long relied on male humor to establish itself. A Super Bowl ad for example showed a man with jumper cables attached to his nipples. “The bottom line is this is just another edgy way to advertise Amp,” said Bill Sipper, senior partner at Cascadia Consulting. “Kudos to them for having the Associated Press and everyone talking about it. It’s a good way to break out of a cluttered category. After all, we’re talking about a soft drink, not nuclear waste.”
John Sicher, editor, Beverage Digest said, “Amp is a product that skews to young males. This is a very edgy promotion, but it’s supposed to be fun and funny. In no way is PepsiCo a company that is disrespectful to anyone.”
Pepsi provided a statement, saying: "The application is only available to iPhone users 17 years and older who choose to opt in to the experience. It was designed to be entertaining and appeal to AMP's target. We'll continue to listen to the feedback and act accordingly." Its Twitter apology reads: “Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize & appreciate your feedback. #pepsifail.”
Pepsi is learning a valuable lesson in social media marketing the hard way, said Seth Godin, blogger and author of Tribes. “For too long advertisers and marketers thought it was okay to treat women as objects to sell something. The difference between now and then is [general public] now has a platform to complain about it. This is a symptom of platform shifting. Pepsi’s not the only brand that’s going to have to learn the lesson.”
It’s not uncommon for brands within the same company to have vastly different personalities. One need look no further than Unilever which owns the raunchy Axe body spray and Dove. The difference for Unilever is there is a clear distinction between its brands unlike at Pepsi which often markets its products together, said Ted Wright, owner, Fizz, a word-of-mouth marketing company that specializes in beverages. “There is a fundamental strategic conflict between Amp and the rest of the portfolio. If you’re going to be part of a conglomerate, it makes it very difficult for brands to talk in an authentic voice to niche audiences because it affects the other brands.”
Johnson also notes that the campaign carries greater weight because “they put it out there in a public forum. It’s not like they just sent it to males…The public has spoken. Pepsi needs to rethink this.”