- Pepsi’s commercial sparks debate
PepsiCo recently used a marketing campaign to gloss over some of the most prevalent issues of 2017. It didn’t go down as easily as the soft drink.
On April 4, Pepsi released a commercial that starred Kendall Jenner, a super-model, leaving a photoshoot to join what appears to be a peaceful protest, gracefully weaving among the diverse group of protesters. The scene shifts to a line of stoic police officers, and Jenner decides to approach one to diffuse the tension. She hands one of the officers a can of Pepsi, who cracks it open and drinks it. As a result, the group of protesters excitedly erupt in cheers. This advertisement created an onslaught of outrage, as many called it “tone deaf” and especially insensitive to the racial issues present in our country. Saturday Night Live parodied the creation of the commercial, portraying a naïve writer/director who supported the unifying message of the commercial. Only too late did he realize the stereotypes that Pepsi portrayed.
The commercial failed to take a stance on current social justice issues. The march devalued protests around the country and the issues that people are fighting to fix.
The next day, Pepsi removed the ad, issuing a statement saying in part, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.”
Although the apology was needed, we are left to wonder how the ad survived the various stages of production despite the inherent problems. Joining the social justice conversation isn’t easy, but there’s a better way to promote these causes.
Protest posters featured peace signs and slogans like “join the conversation” and “love”; yet, these vague calls for peace left a significant amount of ambiguity for viewers. Many interpreted this ad as a misguided reflection of the Black Lives Matter movement. The distinct gap between protesters and the line of police officers eerily mirrored some iconic images of protests.
The commercial was distasteful, to say the least.
These generalizations about how simple these problems are advertised should make us uncomfortable. It also stereotyped cultures and made protesting look like a hip social experiment. Pepsi’s inability to address anything in the commercial was evident by its ambiguity.
As students of a university that encourages social awareness, as Millennials encouraged to “stay woke,” how can we digest such antipathy and exploitation of conflicts? Education is part of the solution to recognizing what could be considered socially insensitive. Even if Pepsi did not intend to poorly address such serious issues like race and inequality, that is what it looked like. The advertisement downplayed the struggle of some Americans to gain the rights they deserve.
Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, was one of many to dish out criticism. Her tweet featured a picture of MLK against a line of policeman, stating “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” King’s late father’s legacy is one with weight and her reaction only further reveals just how insensitive this ad was.
Similarly, The Philadelphia Tribune, in a recent article titled “Tone-deaf Pepsi ad draws global ire,” featured an article including King’s tweet and other reactions from the black community. Writer Bobbi Booker cited a few influential journalists of color. He included a tweet from Ernest Owen, journalist and editor for Philadelphia magazine’s G Philly, which read “@pepsi thinks it can appropriate social justice movements with Kendall Jenner for capital gains…Nah. #BoycottPepsi #ByePepsi.”
Other journalists have spoken out about the insensitivity of the ad. Jamilah Lemieux, EBONY Magazine’s senior editor, highlighted the problem with simplifying the complexities behind protests. She tweeted, “Imagine putting your life on the line like this to fight for justice only to have it parodied by a soda company and a Kardashian” accompanied by a picture of activist Ieshia Evans standing against police officers. Lemieux’s comment highlights the danger and courage required to stand up for rights, which Pepsi disregarded when Jenner smoothly created peace with a soda can.
Jenner is not representative of the activists who have stood up against injustice, disregarding the historical implications intertwined with the right to peaceful protests.
This is not the first time simplification and marketing have come together to tackle complex social issues.
Sometimes the public notices, but other times we too have fallen prey to the Hollywood-directed pandering of heated discussions. The downfall of this simplification is made obvious of course by moments like this: Jenner suavely making her way through a crowd of diverse people to hand a police officer a Pepsi.
In light of such stereotyping we find it necessary to say this: over-simplification of some of the most controversial issues facing our generation is problematic. Simplification isn’t the enemy. Rather, it is a tool that we can use for change. We just have to use it wisely.
It’s obvious in this example that Pepsi did not use such caution. Do not be dissuaded by the allure of such solutions. Real change is difficult. It can be gruesome, fierce, fiery, exhausting, beautiful—but none of it is easy. Maybe this commercial sparked a controversy, but the controversy is representative of a larger conversation regarding peace.
As students, it is our moral obligation to look at the world through a critical lens and act ethically.
And none of this will ever be accomplished by a can of soda.