In 2011 Pepsi Co Inc found themselves in hot cola, with the strategic release of their new ‘skinny’ diet can at the Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week. Considering Diet Pepsi is a brand with major market awareness and a core product that is practically unchangeable, it is easy to understand why they would turn an image overhaul to refresh their branding. This new image, however, was not received well, due to the fact that some felt the whole ‘Skinny’ approach reinforced dangerous stereotypes about women and body image.
It wasn’t so much the can itself that raised the controversy but rather the Marketing behind it. The fact that they called it a ‘Skinny’ can is what raised the most eyebrows. I wonder would people of reacted the same had they called it a sleek can?
Off course the tag line that went along with the cans release (Get The Skinny) didn’t help much either. By using this slogan and by releasing the can at New York fashion Week, along with several campaigns by famous models and designers Charlotte Ronson and Betsey Johnson, Pepsi gave a strong interpretation that ‘skinny’ was beautiful and fashionable. Suddenly we saw images of thin, glamorous (and anorexic) models endorsing the product, subsequently they were also endorsing the idea that skinny = glamorous.
Jill Beraud, chief marketing officer for PepsiCo made a statement, “Our slim, attractive new can is the perfect complement to today’s most stylish looks”. Did the chief marketing officer for Pepsi just compare “slim” to “attractive” and “stylish”?
Pepsi claimed that the “taller, sassier can” was made in “celebration of beautiful, confident women”, The National Eating Disorders Association on the other hand claimed they took offense to the can and said the company’s comments were both “thoughtless and irresponsible.”
In my opinion, Pepsi was not trying to reinforce the stereo type that ‘being skinny is better’ but rather introduce the idea that ‘drinking diet Pepsi makes you thinner’ because at the end of the day they were trying to sell Pepsi’s and what better way to sell more Pepsi than to market it to women who are concerned with body image and want to maintain weight.
This whole fiasco is a perfect example of how branding and advertising act as a sign in terms of denotation and connotation. Pepsi aimed to denote one thing (Pepsi is fashionable) and instead connoted another (skinnier is better). This is because different people have different ideologies and therefore read things in various ways. Pepsi simply released a thinner can and from that people came to the conclusion that ‘Skinny’ was Beautiful due to the connotations the slim can created.