Pepsi makes ONE cola; doesn’t believe in one society

07_Pepsi_ONE_Family_v2Pepsi has announced a new online community targeting African-American moms as a way to help that demographic inspire each other with their stories. It’s interesting to me that a company that makes a product called ONE is now trying to continue the troubling history in this country of separating people by race.

I had high hopes that social media, finally, would be one vehicle that would help us smash through the barriers erected by differences in the color of our skin and help us realize that we are all part of one race: the human race.

But now, marketers at Pepsi have decided that African-American moms are underrepresented and need a place to have their voices heard. Too bad their voices won’t be heard by anyone other than people exactly like them.

I’m a white dad, so obviously I can’t speak for black moms everywhere. I just wish marketing people at companies like Pepsi would realize they can’t either. First of all, who  asked them to? Who says black women can’t get on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and all the other outlets to have their voices heard? Who says they need a special place just to call their own — and that they can’t create one via Ning? Who says that black women aren’t smart enough to see right through this marketing trap? Who says we need to turn the Internet into a microcosm of real life, with its inherent racism and the segregation that results from it?

Just last month, we saw the passing of the 46th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I can’t help but wonder how inspirational and amazing he would find the technology of today and how it has transformed our abilities to see past race and look only at a person for what they are contributing to the conversation.

Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_WashingtonHis infamous exclamations certainly ring true when you look at a social media outlet like Twitter, which helps meld us into a community that is not based on race, religion or nationality.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

“Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

I recently had a colleague who is just getting into social media make the following comment, and it punctuates what I’m trying to say in this post:

I find it fascinating that social media is generating social activity that did not exist before and bringing together people that otherwise would not have connected. Way fun.

It’s too bad major American brands like Pepsi can’t see the potential for social media to bring us together instead of another avenue to keep us apart.

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7 comments on “Pepsi makes ONE cola; doesn’t believe in one society

  1. I think for the first time in my life I disagree with you, Ari. I really don’t think Pepsi has made a bad move creating the “we inspire” online community. Sure, it’s clearly aimed at appealing to a specific segment of customers, but is that such a bad thing? Maybe the customers they’re trying to reach appreciate an online space they can call their own and like the idea of an online community built around women sharing their stories and inspirations. In fact, it seems like there has already been some participation from active users.

    I agree with your point that social media enables the world to come together and creates a space with no barriers and no reasons to separate users from each other. But just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean people want to use the technology that way. There are differences in the way different groups want to use social media, so I guess I don’t see where Pepsi has gone wrong in creating an environment based around one community. Is this so different than Facebook at its beginning only being open to college students? Doesn’t something like that naturally create a community that only wants to include a portion of the world’s population and intentionally exclude others? In fact, I think if you asked college students if they wanted the “old” facebook back, most of them would say yes.

    I think it’s important that you’ve brought up the fact that companies need to start looking at social media as a way to make the world a little smaller and bring us all together. But it takes two to tango. The users have to be on board, too. And maybe Pepsi is one of the first to take social media in the direction consumers are asking for.

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    • Thanks for commenting Becky. It’s disturbing to me, though, that you think consumers want social media to become just what we have in real life — a segregated society in which people refuse to do anything more than co-exist when it suits their purpose. If you’re right, that’s just sad.

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  2. I agree with many of the points Becky makes, Ari. What Pepsi is doing is traditional marketing using social media. Marketing is all about segmentation. Every successful company – whether its prepared foods, soap or insurance – targets specific demographics. If you look at print ads, the differences are sometimes subtle but they are there. With social media, it’s just more transparent.

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    • Thanks for your comment Ellen. I disagree that social media is just another tool for marketing though. It’s a brand new start at a society that isn’t hell-bent on tearing down every other race and religion in an effort to prop up their own. Or at least it could be. Maybe I’m being too idealistic, but you have to put hope somewhere for safekeeping, otherwise, all hope is lost.

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  3. I would have to agree with Becky too. I understand your point that we should be using social media as an avenue to promote unity, but having communities for people who are like-minded or have similar backgrounds isn’t making the online world as segregated as the offline world. It’s kind of like saying you shouldn’t have a community for auto enthusiasts, or for people who live in Detroit because you are leaving out a certain group. I think these groups give people a way to connect with someone who has the same background, same lifestyle, even if they are hundred of miles away.

    Good post though. It did really get me thinking!

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    • I see your point about enthusiast groups Matt, but I think this is different. This community Pepsi created isn’t about a hobby, it’s about a person’s existence. And while I haven’t confirmed this fact for myself, someone noted on another site that the black celebrity women tapped to help promote this community aren’t even parents. So, Pepsi is playing the race card fully and tacking on the parental thing as a side note.

      The best part of your comment, however, is that my post got you thinking. That’s awesome! I’m not looking for people to agree with me, just to think before they disagree with me. Intelligent discussion and open minds lead to greatness. Cheers!

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