When a brand tries to play in the political space, it needs to follow the rules of the game. When done right, the messaging can be powerful and make consumers feel better about the brand. However, when done wrong, it can become controversial and devastating for the brand. What are some of these rules and how fine is the line between winning and losing?

1. Don’t be the hero

It’s not exactly news that Pepsi learned the hard way how difficult the political game is to play. Its ad, “Live for Now,” featuring Kendall Jenner, was pulled just one day after its release due to heavy backlash across social media. Although the messaging of coming together amongst our differences was seemingly a strong play to make, the execution of the ad was unrewarding.

Are we surprised it bombed? Not exactly. To start, Pepsi’s role in the ad was the solution: because of Pepsi, the two conflicting parties were able to come together. This leaves the takeaway message to be along the lines of “if you give out a can of Pepsi, then social injustice can end.” Naturally, within the context of Pepsi’s brand identity, this wasn’t a message viewers were willing to accept. Because of these factors, Pepsi reaped zero rewards and issued a public apology, which also received backlash. The damage was done.

2. But do help to find the solution

One brand’s failure, however, doesn’t mean that any brand seemingly disconnected from the space, such as beverages, can’t live there. It just needs to have a clear role and one that makes sense.

Heineken proved this point with the release of its ad, “Worlds Apart.” Here, the focus was on two people, with opposite social views, coming together to sit and discuss their views over a beer. In essence, the messaging seemed similar to that which Pepsi was trying to accomplish: unity. So what was the pivotal role the brand played that made this ad more successful than Pepsi’s?

First off, Heineken was not the solution, but rather it paved a way for people to find the solution on their own terms. Instead of being the end (solution) of the discussion, Heineken decided to be the start of the discussion. And in terms of discussion, such as personal or political views, the social setting of a bar is an easy connection for consumers to make. By understanding the context of its brand, and the message they wanted to convey, Heineken was able to leave the field of the political game as a winning team.

So when creating content, never lose sight of the context in which your brand and your message fit together in the space you are trying to play in. Viewers need to be able to easily connect the dots if you are going to be rewarded for taking the risk.

This article was first featured on MediaPost: Marketing CPG and written by Vicky Wilson, Ameritest Analyst based in Chicago