business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

“Tastelessness that beats the others cold, Pepsi pours it on …”

That tweet, a takeoff on one of Pepsi’s classic slogans, sums up the cyber-reaction to a crude “fratire” iPhone application about scoring with women that has landed the national beverage brand in a Twitter-storm of protest.

The new iPhone app -- titled “AMP UP Before You Score” – promotes Pepsi’s Amp energy drink, targeted toward young males. It tells guys how to score with 24 “types” – such as Sorority Girl, Cougar, Rebound Chick and Goth – and provides pickup lines and links to resources for the effort.

As if that boorish attempt at humor wasn’t bad enough, the app then suggests users share their conquest results via Twitter or Facebook: "Get lucky? Add her to your Brag List. You can include a name, date and whatever details you remember."

Reaction was fast and furious, and further proof that social networking is drastically changing the way America does business. Just a year ago I would have scoffed if you told me I would be using the terms iPhone app, Twitter and Pepsi in the same sentence, and now they are the makings of a national media story.

The initial internet outrage about the app was reported on the social media site last week with the headline: “Alienate your female customers? Pepsi has an app for that.” After the story broke, the number of free downloads jumped by more than 75,000.

The parent brand jumped in and responded via Twitter: “Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it’s in bad taste & appreciate your feedback.”

“If” it’s in bad taste? Please.

It’s beyond bad taste. It’s inexcusable. And the “apology” lacks any credence whatsoever since Pepsi did not choose to pull the app from circulation. A spokeswoman was quoted as saying “the application was designed to entertain and appeal to Amp’s target. We’ll continue to monitor the feedback from all parties and act accordingly.”

Oh, yes, they got plenty of feedback, including some 100,000 viewings of an ad for the app on YouTube and thousands of tweets. The Twitter community assigns a searchable “hash tag” – the symbol # before a word or phrase -- to commentary for purposes of re-tweeting and sharing comments on a story. And interestingly, Pepsi/Amp chose to include the hashtag #pepsifail to its apology, which further linked parent company Pepsi to the ruckus.

The app was deemed “sexist,” “ridiculously offensive” and “an insult to half of your customers.” Many were angry that Pepsi failed to pull the app: "To apologize for the Amp campaign but not remove the app yet - is GROSS” and “Words are cheap - until they pull the app, ‘Coke is it!’” Not all of the comments were negative: “Dear Pepsi: You app is genius and hysterical” and “People need to get over themselves … Don’t tell me girls don’t joke around like this either.”

There were several online debates about whether Pepsi and Amp set out to cause a tempest to raise awareness of the Amp brand. One post called it “a great and gutsy stunt” and another wrote “I am willing to bet that the marketing department at Pepsi is jumping up and down, high fives all around.”

Adding to the irony, the top executive at PepsiCo is a 53-year-old woman with two daughters, which prompted this posting: “Until Amp app removed, I’m guessing PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi advising her daughters to avoid boys with iPhones.”

And I’m stunned she didn’t insist the company “act accordingly” and pull the offending app out of circulation.

You can reach Kate McMahon via email at .
KC's View:
This is vile stuff, and it is unfathomable to me that Pepsi didn’t immediately order this app taken down. Forget about the fact that the CEO has two daughters; there must be other people in the company who have girls at home and who are offended by this kind of crap.

In fact, it shouldn’t take having a daughter to be offended. I’d be appalled if I found out my sons were engaging in this kind of discourse about women...though to call it “discourse” is to grant it far too much dignity.