Twitter Opinion versus Public Opinion


Backlash for Pepsi's most recent ad starring Kendall Jenner spread wildly throughout Twitter.

When Pepsi released its now infamous ad featuring Kendall Jenner joining a rally and offering a police officer a can of Pepsi, Twitter judgment was swift, uniform, and harsh.Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 12.27.40 PM Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 12.30.01 PM Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 12.30.29 PMOr my personal favorite:

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Despite the nearly universal, negative Twitter opinion, public opinion research conducted by Morning Consult offered a much different perspective. In a survey of 2,202 adults, 44 percent of survey respondents said they had a more favorable impression of Pepsi after watching the ad while 25 percent had a less favorable view. Interestingly, the ad performed worse among whites than it did among communities of color – 75 percent of Latinos said the ad made them more favorable to the soda brand, 51 percent of African-Americans said the same, 41 percent of whites said the ad made them more favorable toward Pepsi. A sizable plurality of Republicans (43 percent) and Democrats (48 percent) had a more favorable impression of Pepsi.

Why the disconnect?

The Pew Research Center conducted an analysis of public opinion versus Twitter opinion a few years ago and arrived at a few basic observations:

  • The overall reach of Twitter is modest: Pew found that just 13 percent of the country uses Twitter, a level matched by Quinn Thomas’ own analysis of social media use in the Pacific Northwest. We found 16 percent use in Oregon and 15 percent use in the Puget Sound.
  • The universe of Twitter users is not representative of the public: In our regional social media research, 22 percent of adults under the age of 35 use Twitter. So, it’s a demographic subgroup that will hold different views on popular culture and questions of social justice.
  • Twitter users who choose to share their views on events vary with the topics in the news: Pew found that communities exist on Twitter that weigh in greater numbers depending on the topic. In the case of the Pepsi ad, there was an entire community of users who feel strongly about issues related to social justice. They viewed the ad as airbrushed and “tone deaf” — practically mocking the real issues in their community. Their voice was heard loud and clear.

I would add one more observation about the Pepsi ad: social media hates inauthenticity. A runway model sharing cans of Pepsi with a group of smiling, beautiful people holding up meaningless signs at a “rally” fails the authenticity test.

It’s why the Heineken ad fared better on social media, at least among those who don’t reflexively roll their eyes at corporate “pandering” on political issues. It focused on “real people” sharing their very personal beliefs. Inauthentic? Of course – “See! We can all change in less than four minutes!” But, at least the characters have some depth and attempt vulnerability.

We live in an era where politics is everywhere, and brands are going to join the conversation. They’d be wise to remember two important things: Twitter reaction doesn’t equal public opinion and they’ll be rewarded for being authentic.

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