Image from a Mountain Dew ad that Pepsico has pulled from circulation (USA Today)
(USA Today) -- Dumb ads seem to be contagious.
Soft drink giant PepsiCo says it is pulling a highly controversial commercial for Mountain Dew -- depicting five African-American men and a goat in a police line-up -- that has managed to offend African-Americans, women and bloggers coast-to-coast.
African-American rapper Tyler, the Creator, developed the 60-second spot in which a battered white woman on crutches is urged by an officer to identify a suspect out of a lineup of black men. A talking goat named Felicia is included in the lineup. The goat makes threatening remarks to the woman, including, "Keep ya mouth shut."
The provocative commercial -- which was never meant for TV -- has been pulled.
The action comes days after Hyundai pulled an adparodying suicide, and few weeks after McDonald's yanked a regional subway poster that parodied depressed women. It comes several weeks after Ford killed an ad in India that depicted sexy women tied up in the back of a Ford Figo.
In a social-media world, bad ads quickly rise to the top -- or fall to the bottom -- and can damage images of the world's biggest brands. "There's a rush to do real-time marketing and get things to go viral," says Steve Barrett, editor of PR Week. "But in that rush, the approval process sometimes gets forgotten about."
The trade magazine Adweek broke the story online Wednesday morning. One social commentator, Boyce Watkins, called it "arguably the most racist commercial in history."
Another critic wants PepsiCo to do more than apologize. "Given their poor record of marketing to African Americans, and the hundreds of millions blacks spend with the company, there needs to be an investigation and a plan that is made public on how this will be avoided in the future," says Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, a research company that monitors developments in African-American marketing and media.
PepsiCo declined to respond to that criticism or to discuss the ad with USA TODAY. Instead, it sent this statement: "We apologize for this video and take full responsibility. We have removed it from all Mountain Dew channels, and Tyler is removing it from his channels, as well."
The CEO of one fast-growing, multicultural ad agency says that Mountain Dew may think it's on trend -- but with this ad, it's way behind the times.
"I have seen it done by a lot of general market agencies 10 years ago, but seeing it in 2013 makes me think people don't learn," says Yuriy Boykiv, CEO of Gravity Media. "It is a typical rush for awards instead of common sense."
PepsiCo's quick action to take down the ad was critical because Mountain Dew was ranked as the nation's fourth-largest carbonated soft drink in volume sales last year, reports trade magazine Beverage Digest.The brand grew 0.6% in volume, which outperformed the carbonated soft drink category last year, whose sales were down 1.2%.
Mountain Dew, well-known for its bright, yellow color and high caffeine, is targeted at young guys. "Over the years, PepsiCo has done an excellent job marketing this brand," says John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest. "It is one of the strongest brands in the U.S. beverage industry."