Pepsi fails to 'score' with Amp app

In the overcrowded iPhone app market, it can take a lot to stand out. This is doubly true if you're a marketer trying to find relevance for your brand, rather than offering a service, such as a New York Times app or Yelp.

In the overcrowded iPhone app market, it can take a lot to stand out. This is doubly true if you're a marketer trying to find relevance for your brand, rather than offering a service, such as a New York Times app or Yelp.

It's likely under these circumstances that the PepsiCo. AMP energy drink brand bumbled into a major social media gaffe this week upon release of its “Amp Up Before You Score” app. If you haven't seen it, the app purports to help guys “score” with the ladies – ladies that appear in the app in a couple of dozen curvaceous stereotypes including “nerd,” “sorority girl,” “military chick,” “princess,” and low-and-behold, “business woman.” That would have been bad enough, but the app also encourages users to take notes on said conquests, share the bragging via Facebook, and even provides tips on how to better “score” with these women.

Pepsi, normally a company ahead of the social media curve, found itself playing defense as those offended by the app complained and started up a #pepsifail on Twitter. Though some might argue that this is nothing more than a quick social media flap that will quickly be forgotten, it's likely that Pepsi would have preferred to keep its brand out of a solid week of negative coverage in media outlets as prominent as NPR, ABC News, and The Wall Street Journal – not to mention every tech publication and numerous blogs, including feminist ones.

Moreover, the incident drags down the family-friendly corporate brand. It also neatly demonstrates the potential consequences of trying to connect with one audience – dudes, in this case – to the detriment of another – women and families. As a study out this week demonstrated, the purchasing power of women continues to grow, even in nontraditional categories, so this is not an audience that should be lightly dismissed with a Tweeted apology as Pepsi did. Pulling the app would have more readily appeased this group and better assured it that the company took its concerns seriously.

Marketers need to stop thinking about the mobile and digital space as an area where anything goes. It's no longer just a third-screen; it's mainstream. Though released for a brand that is aimed at young men, Amp's brand managers shouldn't have disregarded how the app would play to the corporate brand's other audiences.

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