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Empathy in Marketing: Avoiding Pitfalls

Marketing is a two-way communication between brands and their target audience. It’s important to show that you genuinely care about your audience beyond all the business terms, rules, and technicalities involved. How you make people feel is something they will never forget.

This blog post will highlight the importance of considering customers’ emotions in marketing,

using examples of brands that failed to empathize and the resulting consequences.

Pepsi – 2017

Empathy in Marketing: Avoiding Pitfalls

In 2017 during a protest period, Pepsi released an advertisement starring Kendall Jenner.

In the ad, Jenner hands a can of Pepsi to a police officer during a protest, which seemingly resolves the tension between the protesters and the officer.

However, the ad received criticism for cultural appropriation and was perceived by many as insensitive.

The ad by Pepsi gave the impression of opportunism, as it appeared to exploit the emotions of a social movement for the sake of marketing.

The company’s response, which seemed to lack remorse, only served to further enrage the public.

Pepsi attempted to blame the situation on a “misunderstanding” or “miscommunication,” hoping that the excuse would alleviate the public’s anger.


The banter in Pepsi’s advert became controversial, leading to its removal. Since then, Pepsi has been more cautious in its marketing campaigns.

Dove’s Skin-Deep Solution

Empathy in Marketing: Avoiding Pitfalls

The advertisement depicted a Black woman using a body lotion that resulted in a lighter skin complexion, perpetuating colorism and racism. Fairer skin is the true path to happiness.

Although they may not have intended to be racist, their actions triggered a protest against the brand’s perpetuation of harmful stereotypes towards people with darker skin.

This not only invalidated the beauty and self-worth of individuals with darker skin, but it also caused a significant amount of harm.

Following the release of an insensitive ad, Dove’s Skin brand faced backlash from customers, particularly from the black community.

The brand was forced to retract the ad and issue an apology for any offense caused.

This opened the brand’s eyes to the dangers of ignoring the need for empathy in marketing – your customers come first!

Gillette’s Razor – 2019

Empathy in Marketing: Avoiding Pitfalls


In 2019, Gillette released an advertisement that challenged negative male stereotypes

and called on men to confront issues such as bullying.

Part of the audience praised Gillette for initiating the much-needed conversation, and on the other hand, they faced serious backlash from the others.

They felt unfairly targeted and stereotyped as aggressors rather than diverse individuals that they are.

It came off to them as an insensitive, blunt, and judgemental portrayal of masculinity – as some would call it, “toxic masculinity”.

Gillette reassured the community of their commitment to positive masculinity and support for men of all complexities.
The campaign served as a reminder of the level of carefulness expected from brands venturing into social commentary – an empathy-sensitive zone.

To prevent any potential reputation crises or damage to a brand’s image.it is essential to thoroughly screen all marketing campaigns before they are released.

This includes analyzing every aspect of the campaign, from the messaging and visuals to the target audience and distribution channels.

By taking a comprehensive approach to screening, companies can ensure that their campaigns

align with their brand values and messaging, and avoid any negative impact on their reputation.

It is always better to be proactive in screening than reactive to potential issues.
This is the reason why we ensure that every campaign we create for brands is assessed

for its level of moral sensitivity and how well it aligns with or contrasts the beliefs of our target audience.

You can check out our catalog of projects in which we helped plan, organize, and execute effective marketing campaigns over the years.

We want to know how we can assist with your brand’s marketing. Feel free to contact us via our CONTACT US page, we will be waiting to hear from you.

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