On Tuesday , Pepsi, released an ad starring Kendall Jenner as “the white savior” this generation sorely needs with a conceit that was as stupid as it was implausible: The way to achieve peace was by drinking a Pepsi.”
The two and a half minute “short film” features shots of diverse (well dressed) people marching through the streets carrying vague signs stating “Peace” and “Join the Conversation”. There are multiple close up shots of a Muslim woman in a hijab growing increasingly impatient with the shots she’s taken of the protest that we’re supposed to believe aren’t “authentic” enough. Juxtaposed with the REAL people on the streets, they can be seen dancing and pop-locking like no ones business because, Pepsi is hip and cool and knows the struggle.
A minute into the commercial, we see Kendall Jenner modeling, seemingly confused about the protesting around her (when life imitates arts) until she can no longer ignore the goings-ons around her. In a bout of “wokeness” , she rips off her wig and wipes off her lipstick to join the protest. She proceeds to exchange daps and head nods with fellow protestors (she’s woke now) and skips to the front line of the protest to hand a white cop a can of Pepsi and poof, as we know it, we can fix the tensions that exist between civilians and cops, just by giving them a cool fresh carbonated can of diabetes and obesity.
The outrage and DRAGGING through different social media platforms was immediate. Fire memes were conceived using images of protestors from the Civil Rights Movement and captions as simple as “If only he had a Pepsi” to convey the utter tone-deafness and offensiveness of the Pepsi ad. Acivists such as Deray McKesson commented
“If I had carried Pepsi I guess I never would’ve gotten arrested. Who knew?”
The fact that this ad was released April 4, the same day Martin Luther King was killed, didn’t escape Bernice King who tweeted a picture of MLK and other protestors being held back by white officers with the caption “If Only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi”. Within 24 hours, Pepsi released a statement conceding that they were just trying to “project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize.” They also apologized to Kendall Jenner for having put her in this position…of being paid millions of dollars for a decision she made under no duress.
There are many points to start at for why this ad was an epic fail. For one, using a celebrity like Kendall Jenner in an ad that is supposed to reflect authenticity “realness” is confounding to me especially considering the fact the Kardashian-Jenner clan have remained conspicuously mum regarding any social cause that doesn’t directly affect them.
I scoured Kendall Jenner’s Instagram and Twitter pages to see if she has ever mentioned anything about BLM, the Standing Rock Pipeline protests, or even the Women’s Right’s March and as I suspected, she has never made any public statement regarding any of these issues. It was clear Pepsi wanted to use Kendall Jenner because of her visibility within pop culture, which is well within their rights, but to use her within an ad that touches on social justice issues is just shows how out of touch the company was when making this decision.
Which actually brings us to my larger issue with this ad. Each time I watched the ad, I kept asking “who signed off on this”? The fact that no one in the PR department or marketing team or creative team voiced their concerns about this points to the glaring problem of representation and how it continues to manifest itself in the decision making of these large corporations.
Either someone voiced their concerns and they were ignored or there were not enough people of color within these creative meetings that had a perspective that mirrors the potential groups of people that would be offended by the ad. I’m not sure which option is more troublesome . At this point, it seems as if more thought is put into the retraction and conciliatory statement than the action that prompts the outrage in the first place.
Pepsi set out to create a viral moment that would project a moment of “unity, peace and understanding ”. They certainly achieved it because I have not seen the internet collectively disagree about an issue like this in a long time. If there’s one thing this latest episode of “when wokeness goes wrong” taught me, is that when life gives you stupid ads, make fire memes.