Amid last week’s Pepsi furore, I found myself feeling really quite sorry for Kendall Jenner.
She was allegedly "traumatised" by the backlash. This is a someone barely old enough for an office job, who lives under an intense media spotlight and depends on agents and PR consultants to make the right decisions for her.
In that sense, Jenner makes a perfect analogy for the countless brands who’ve been badly let down by their advertising agencies.
One example was BBDO’s decision to print a run of Bud Light bottles with the copy: "The perfect beer for removing 'No' from your vocabulary for the night."
But that’s not a stab at BBDO. Every experienced creative – yours truly included – has produced work they’re not proud of.
And however bad Pepsi’s ad was (I must admit, it was difficult to watch without squirming), I’m not having a stab at them either, or any brand that sticks its head above the parapet and sidesteps the quagmire of external agencies.
In-house teams have produced loads of great work. Take the "You should have gone to Specsavers" campaign, for example, or recent efforts by Apple and Red Bull. All three brands have incredibly effective in-house agencies, and so on evidence there isn’t anything wrong with the in-house model per se.
It’s simply a matter of knowing how to set it up.
As a pair of Advertising Age journalists correctly noted last week: "Pepsi could have benefited from some external perspective." And when you’re dabbling in big-name celebs and sensitive cultural topics, which can amplify your campaign for better or worse, this insight becomes invaluable.
Part of managing a brand is knowing what tools to use and when. Just as Jenner trusts third parties to manage her image and opportunities, brands generally prefer to allow agencies to do their thing.
Pepsi’s gaffe will be forgotten. It’ll learn from its mistakes, bounce back with something better, and join Apple and Red Bull as one of the few brands that have properly sussed in-house.
Yes, there will always be mistakes. The same human element that leads to brilliant creativity comes hand in hand with certain risks. Fingers will be pointed, the press will have their field day and another innocent celeb will be temporarily forced into hiding.
But if you hire the right people and introduce the right structures and processes, you safeguard against mishaps while capitalising on the opportunity to do great work from inside your own business.
Blaming the in-house model for the PepsiCo debacle makes as much sense as blaming Jenner. It overlooks the complexities of creative processes and fundamentally misunderstands the factors that lead to the production of good and bad work. It’s just too easy a shot.