When it comes to dating, the difference between sucess and failure often comes down to delivery. And as PepsiCo. learned this week, even a good bit of self-deprecation can’t fix a poorly executed pick up line.

Pepsi’s AMP energy drink released a new app — “Amp Up Before You Score” — which got into trouble with more than a few people for the way it approached the fairer sex. 

Pepsi quickly took to social media to apologize, but by broadcasting the apology across platforms and brands (and including a self-depricating hashtag), Pepsi helped turn the tkt into a tempest.

“Before You Score” categorizes women into 24 types — including “cougar,”
“bookworm,” “treehugger” and “rebound girl” — and then gives users
conversational resources, namely wikipedia articles and other
superficial info to help with pickup lines. In an additional layer of
sensitivity, the app connects to social media so that users can
share their conquests:

“Get lucky? Add her to your Brag List. You can include a name, date and whatever details you remember.”

More than a few who encountered the app were upset by the way it approached females. Jezebel chastised “bro culture” and Mashable
headlined its post “Alienate your female customers? Pepsi has an app for that.”

AMP quickly responded and tweeted:
“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.” They also created the self-deprecating “pepsifail” hashtag, and Pepsi’s main feed retweeted the mea culpa.

Quickly thereafter, Twitter users were continuing the meme, either lambasting or defending Pepsi. A sampling:

haute_muffy: Need a bad pickup line? There’s a (misogynist) app for that! http://bit.ly/LwVQw (expand) no such thing as bad PR? ha. #pepsifail

liqwidzero: Amazing. Loads of people posting the same thing, over and over. Feminists, get off your high chairs, there’s no need to reach. #pepsifail

abramsresearch: Pepsi scores plenty of buzz by offending 50% of the population with new app. No such thing as bad press? http://bit.ly/NwC5C (expand) #pepsifail

wloglobal: @AMPwhatsnext The Pepsi apology for the AMP UP B4 U Score iPhone app is a great social media marketing ploy. #pepsifail

Interestingly, the comments are not all negative. But they unnecessarily tie Pepsi into Amp’s issues. AMP is a brand targeted to men, and the app tried to tap into an activity its customers partake in.

Other brands have successfully marketed to males in this space. Unilever’s Axe
deodorant has made a habit of linking its product to success with women. And earlier this year the brand launched the similarly themed
“Dirty Night Determinator” mobile game, which helped users calculate
how dirty their night could get by determining a woman’s age,
moral standing, body type and occupation. But Axe has done a good job of distinguishing itself from the Unilever brand, and their game created
significantly less controversy.

Meanwhile, Men’s Health also has a similar app, which I have written about here. That app, however, focuses on advice more than categorizing and labeling females.

With “Before You Score,” Pepsi seems to have failed on execution as well as cleanup. It is good for the brand that not all of the fallout has been negative. And they succeeded in being clear, upfront and transparent in dealing with the issue. But most of the responses arrived AFTER Pepsi issued its apology. And while the #pepsifail hashtag helps organize chatter on the matter, it also holds Pepsi accountable for AMP’s missteps. The energy drink brand rarely gets a mention in critiques of the situation.

AMP’s success in targeting the male demographic needs to be kept separate from Pepsi’s greater marketing plans, due mainly to how divergent the niche and general brands’ goals are.

The quick and transparent response by the brand was coming from the right place, but they should not have brought Pepsi into it at all. Now when people comment on the controversy — positively or negatively — they are forever linking Amp to the larger Pepsi brand. And holding Pepsi accountable for Amp’s missteps.

That might have happened anyhow, but Pepsi didn’t need to lead the charge on its own critique.