Should Your Company Follow Pepsi’s Lead?

If you haven’t seen it, Pepsi Max has just released the latest and greatest viral video, titled “Test Drive.” Here it is:

And the only thing garnering more hits than the video, are the concurrent news stories that:

a) This video represents the future of advertising, and

b) The video is fake.

Fake meaning that:

  • Jeff Gordon didn’t really drive the car through all those stunts,
  • the car salesman was an actor and not really an unsuspecting car salesman,
  • that a whole slew of cameras were used on a full blown set, instead of the few “hidden” cameras that the commercial implied were the ones getting the live feed,
  • and basically that this was a fully staged and acted commercial instead of some Reality TV or Candid Camera-style prank.

And this brings up a few questions, mainly:

Should your company follow Pepsi’s lead, and will the revelation that the video was faked hurt its success and/or the success of the Pepsi Max brand?

And it’s a definite NO for both.

Let’s look at the second question first, because the answers will make responding to the first question a no-brainer.

So here’s why being Fake won’t hurt Pepsi Max’s Test Drive video:

The video never explicitly claims to be real.

Pepsi doesn’t tell you that what you’re seeing is true or was filmed live or involves unsuspecting subjects. You assume all that when the opening act presents typical Candid Camera-style context clues.

They show you the hidden cameras inside the Coke Pepsi Max can and Jeff Gordon’s glasses, and they have extras stealthily doing stuff to the car while Jeff Gordon and the car salesman go inside to sign-out the Camero for the test drive. From these cues, you assume that the video is a Candid Camera-style operation.

So when it turns out to be fully staged, acted, and orchestrated, you really can’t blame anyone other than yourself. And since the only objective of the video was to entertain you by presenting a sort of lived-out fantasy, what’s there to object to?

Which brings up the second reason Pepsi Max’s latest video will end up doing just fine despite being “fake”…

The video has absolutely no persuasive goals whatsoever.

This Pepsi Max video isn’t trying to persuade you of anything. There is no goal beyond entertainment. There is no implied or secondary messaging and there is nothing that the video is trying to convince or persuade you to believe.

This is one reason I almost called the hidden camera can a Coke can a few paragraphs previous to this—there’s nothing about Pepsi’s video that’s inherently Pepsi-related!

So why are we talking about this?

If it had been a persuasive video, the result would have been a PR Disaster and would have deeply damaged Pepsi’s credibility.

The Rules Are Different for Persuasive Videos

Documentary-style persuasive videos and even regular demonstration-style ads are expected to portray the real world—real people having real experiences with genuine products.

In 1990, Volvo aired an ad showing a monster truck crashing in the roof of every car except theirs. Turns out, the Volvo in the commercial had been given extra bracing, arguable without the brand’s knowledge or consent.

The FTC fined Volvo and its ad agency $150,000 for “deceptive advertising.”

And that’s the danger: there’s pretty much NO gray area in most people’s minds in moving from real to fake.

You may think you’re showing real stuff, but as soon as your video producer starts introducing fake props, or fake sets, or stages something unlikely to happen in the real world, charges of fakery become not only possible, but incredibly likely. It’s the nature of the Internet; people dig for dirt and publish it.

And fake rings the death knell of persuasion and credibility.

Hence, About Face Media’s prime directive, born of our work as documentary filmmakers: only film what’s true and authentic.

No AboutFace personnel may interfere with the normal activities of subjects lives, characteristics or cultures. Such interference includes manipulative propping, selecting wardrobe, faking locations or otherwise altering subjects actual world or directing subjects to act in such a manner that would be out of character for the subjects. AboutFace personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even at the risk of losing a client, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental manipulation of said subject or culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation.

There are many great examples of persuasive videos that follow the prime directive, but perhaps one of the more famous demos is the 1973 Super Bowl ad for Masterlock. It’s not exactly documentary style, and it ran before the age of viral videos, but it showed a real marksmen shooting a real gun, at a real, off-the-shelf masterlock, and then demonstrated the real results.

That ad sold a lot of locks and made Masterlock the iconic brand that it now is, because it is both persuasive and true—neither of which can be said for Pepsi Max’s Test Drive,

Bottom line? Follow the Prime Directive, rather than the Pepsi direction.

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