With sponsored iPhone apps flooding the marketplace, a brand needs make a big splash to stand out. Enter PepsiCo's "Amp Up Before You Score" iPhone app, released on Friday.
Proving that there's no such thing as bad publicity, the app has created a firestorm of controversy -- even if it's really just a tempest in an iPhone. The male-targeted application offers dating and "pick up" advice guaranteed to assist in "scoring" with members of the opposite sex.
The hetero-normative app allows men to choose from 24 "types" of women, ranging from "athlete" to "cougar" to "trouble," with pick-up lines, background information and restaurant listings for "suitors" to take their potential "conquests." You get the picture.
Critics charge that the app perpetuates the objectification of women, and relies on tired stereotypes. For "cougars," the first suggested line is "Predator, meet your prey" and when profiling a "dancer," no restaurant listings are offered. (Get it? They don't eat.) The trite source material is identical to the advice (and locker room mentality) of lad mags like Maxim or Axe body spray commercials. (Or, unfortunately, the Klondike ice cream bar's online "man cave.") Jezebel, Gawker's site for women, mocks the apps celebration of "bro culture":
It's going to be so easy to score with AMP energy drink on your breath and a list of incredibly generic "types" in your pocket. All you need is a fresh Ed Hardy shirt and a spritz of Axe body spray and you are good to go! Jon Gosselin will even pick you up so you can spend the night spending his children's education fund on cubic zirconia earrings together, bro!
Jon Gosselin? Ed Hardy? Not the best brand association. On the other hand, that may be the very demographic PepsiCo is seeking to court: young men with, uh, extreme tastes. (Of the palate.)
PepsiCo offered a half-hearted apology via their AMPwhatsnext Twitter account, "We apologize if it's in bad taste & appreciate your feedback," and including the #pepsifail hashtag (a hashtag is a search tool for Twitter users). Social media site Mashable praised Pepsi for risking the connection of their brand with "failure" in order to communicate with consumers searching for the controversy, and creating an opportunity to leverage public interest and soothe outrage.
Feedback from Twitter users remained negative since the fauxpology. Many women on the service claim they will boycott Pepsi.
But not all consumers are turned off: Blogger Kristin Maverick explored the features of the app, and despite subject material, found the "app...SO well developed and full of features that blow other apps away," asking "who were the developers" while reminding readers, "It's just an iPhone app."
While apologetic, PepsiCo. has not announced any plans to pull the app. It currently sits at number 37 on the top 50 free apps in the iPhone app store. Time will tell if the stigma of being identified with "bro culture" or boycott threats will force the company to issue a stronger apology and pull the app. Perhaps the controversy will subside, and prove to be simply greater word of mouth recognition in the marketplace? If so, is negative publicity the new branding strategy?
As long as they're still talking about you, right?