Pepsi's Apology for Amp IPhone App Heightens Furor

Social-Media Debate Over Energy Drink's Allegedly Sexist Marketing Spurs Criticism of Entire Company

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- PepsiCo has inserted itself and several of its brands into a heated debate surrounding an iPhone app launched by its Amp Energy brand. By introducing a Twitter tag #pepsifail, the company has spread the news further and associated its flagship brand with the sexist app. So is it a savvy, transparent social-media move or is it simply exacerbating the damage already done?

Two dozen stereotypes and the fact that the app encourages users to brag about their conquests have raised the ire of consumers.
Two dozen stereotypes and the fact that the app encourages users to brag about their conquests have raised the ire of consumers.
The app, "Amp Up Before You Score," offers guys pickup lines and background info for 24 different types of women, ranging from "military chick" and "political girl" to "married" and "sorority girl." The app pulls in information from Wikipedia on the punk movement for a girl who's into punk rock, and offers suggestions and directions to vegan restaurants if you've got a "treehugger" on your hands. The free app was built by Interpublic Group of Cos. digital agency R/GA.

PepsiCo executives did not immediately return requests for comment.

Amp isn't the first brand to take this approach. Unilever's Axe deodorant has long targeted a similar male demographic by extolling its ability to attract women. Earlier this year the brand launched the "Dirty Night Determinator" mobile game, which helped users calculate how dirty their night was going to get by asking about a woman's age, moral standing, body type and occupation. While that game created significantly less, if any, backlash, reaction to the Amp app has been swift and damning.

The two dozen stereotypes and the fact that the app encourages users to brag about their conquests have raised the ire of consumers and blogs. Jezebel lambasted "bro culture" and Mashable posted a piece with the headline "Alienate your female customers? Pepsi has an app for that." But the discussion didn't appear to have really gained steam until Amp posted an apology to its Twitter feed, @Ampwhatsnext, with the tag #pepsifail. Since the tag was posted, consumers have voiced their displeasure with the app, and several blogs, including Huffington Post and Mashable, have posted the tag.

Spreading mea culpa
Further spreading the news, sibling brands @Pepsi and @Mtn_dew, as well as the corporate Twitter feed @pepsico, re-tweeted the apology. The Amp brand Twitter feed has only 1,000 followers, compared to about 15,000 for Pepsi, almost 18,000 for Mtn Dew and nearly 5,000 for PepsiCo.

The tag, along with the re-tweets, seem to unnecessarily associate Pepsi and Mtn Dew, two of the company's largest brands, with a heated and potentially damaging debate. Ostensibly, those who have a problem with the app are not Amp's core customers, after all. But now that Pepsi, Mtn Dew and Pepsi corporate have attached themselves to the debacle, the problem appears much larger, as those brands and, indeed, the entire company may appear insensitive to women. For example, many of the tweets commenting on the app have bypassed the Amp brand entirely and are instead assigning the apology, the app and their distaste to Pepsi.

The other shortcoming in the PR strategy is that despite making an apology, Pepsi hasn't yet given any word on whether it will pull the app, making the mea culpa look a bit hollow.

Still, introducing a tag that associates your brand with a fail is a bold move and one that ensures the brand is a part of the conversation. PepsiCo has quickly addressed the issue, before it got too far out of hand. And it has ensured the conversation is easy to monitor, which will certainly make it easier to plot its next moves.

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