color circles, flat icons in a speaker shape: digital marketing, social media, network, computer concept. abstract background with connected objects in integrated group of element.Brands know in this day and age that being part of the conversations their consumers care about is key to a successful campaign. Yet, what brands seem to fail to realize is how much risk there is in entering a conversation where you simply don’t belong. Time after time, marketing campaigns are launched with political messages or seemingly so little forethought that leave consumers offended, confused and much less inclined to buy.

Last week, of course, the biggest offender was Pepsi, who launched a 3-minute video starring Kendall Jenner. In the ad, Jenner runs off a photo shoot to join a group of protesters. While the purpose of the protest in the ad is not directly communicated, the images seem to draw from Black Lives Matter protests. The video ends with Jenner approaching the police line with a can of Pepsi in a shot reminiscent of the now infamous photo from Baton Rouge. And with that, Pepsi solves racism while the crowd erupts in victorious cheers.

Pepsi immediately received backlash for the “tone-deaf” ad and it was quickly withdrawn and an apology was issued where Pepsi acknowledged they had “missed the mark”.

However, Pepsi is not the first ad to make such a mistake and they certainly won’t be the last. Shortly before Pepsi’s debacle, Nivea, the skin care company, got in on the action with a poorly thought out ad stating “White is Purity”. The obvious racist connotations, although unintentional, were quickly attacked online and the ad was pulled.

It’s no question that brands need to be more aware of how their messages may be construed. Especially in this day and age where consumers have a louder voice than ever before. Social media has become a consumer’s outlet and tool to enact the change customers actually want to see. It may come as a surprise to some brands, but no one is expecting you to solve major political issues, including racism, sexism and homophobia. But, please, save yourself from the backlash, keep to conversations where your brand belongs, and don’t become part of the problem.

What are your thoughts on recent brand blunders? Let us know on Twitter and LinkedIn.

—Kaila Joynes, Jr. Consultant