Pepsi Falls Flat


On April 4, Pepsi released their new ad with supermodel Kendall Jenner as the star. The ad received immediate backlash from social media, with many calling it “tone deaf”.

“This ad trivializes the urgency of the issues and it diminishes the seriousness and the gravity of why we got into the street in the first place,” said activist DeRay McKesson to NBC News.

The Pepsi commercial begins with the image of a diverse crowd of young adults participating in an incredibly vague protest, donning signs reading “join the conversation” and promoting peace. The crowd marches the streets as one, pumping their fists and celebrating. The protest eventually catches the attention of a blonde model (Jenner) in the middle of a photoshoot. She makes eye contact with a handsome protestor and proceeds to rip off her wig and join the protest.

As the protest nears a line of police officers, Jenner picks up a Pepsi can and makes her way to the front of the crowd, encouraged by the same people of color (POC) demonstrators that she nudged aside. She approaches a police officer and hands him the can. As the officer pops the can open, the crowd erupts in applause and cheers, celebrating the apparent ending of any reason to protest. The officer offers his partner a sly smile, as if to say “Hey, what’re you gonna do?”

The commercial was met with immediate outrage. Pepsi was accused of using the recent wave of nationwide protests in order to sell their soda. Many saw the ad as obviously being in bad taste and questioned how it was ever approved in the first place.

From Black Lives Matter to the feminist movement, protests have been especially rampant in the last few years. Protesters put their safety on the line and risk being arrested in order to fight for their human rights and their beliefs. Pepsi’s ad turned this into an advertising ploy. Activists from McKesson to Bernice King, MLK Jr.’s daughter, spoke out on the insensitivity and lack of accurateness of the ad and its depiction of protesters’ experiences on the streets.

“If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi,” tweeted King, accompanied by a photo of MLK being held back by officers.

One of the biggest criticisms was the parallelism many noticed between the image of Jenner approaching the police officers and a famous image of Ieshia Jackson standing firm against officers in a Baton Rouge protest combating police brutality.

The ad put a wealthy and privileged white woman in the midst of a protest. Among the POC surrounding her, Jenner arose as the self-celebrating savior, with salvation coming in the ridiculous form of a Pepsi can. It is a harmful depiction of what protesting is, diminishing the severity and importance of it and the role of people of color.

The day after the ad’s release, the company issued a statement of apology to the public and Jenner.

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