Culture Vulture: Pepsi Gets it Wrong

Graphic by Carrie Clowers '18

Graphic by Carrie Clowers '18

BY DEMETRIA OSEI-TUTU '17 

If you haven’t been keeping up with the Kardashians — they’ve done it again.

On Monday, Pepsi released an absolutely tone-deaf ad featuring reality TV star and model Kendall Jenner. In the 2-minute-39-second ad, Jenner is having a photoshoot when a protest happens to pass by. After catching the eye of a protester, Jenner throws off her blonde wig, hands it over to a black woman (yikes already) and decides to join the protest.

But this isn’t some regular old boring protest. This is a fun protest! Everything is picturesque: people are fist bumping, break dancing, nodding at one another, playing instruments and of course surrounded by coolers of Pepsi. Jenner hands a police officer a can of soda and suddenly the protest turns into a one big dance party. Apparently, police brutality and racism can be solved with a Pepsi.

If the description didn’t already clue you in — this ad is terrible. Honestly, what was Pepsi thinking? (Clearly, they weren’t.) Who pitched the idea, and who in Pepsi’s marketing and advertising team approved it?

Unfortunately, I cannot say I am surprised that Jenner played a part in this. Let’s be real: Jenner can’t be described as “woke” and has never used her platform to discuss important issues and movements. This was likely Jenner’s first experience with protesting at all. Getting someone who is politically active wouldn’t have saved the ad, but the casting made it even more a mockery. Why make the face of a movement someone who has never even claimed to understand the importance of protesting?

Of course, even before Jenner entered the ad, we knew how bad it would be. Pepsi set the scene with random and unnecessary shots of people playing instruments and dancing. The protest looked more like a block party than anything else, with signs that tell us to “join the conversation,” whatever that means. Also, what’s up with the shot of the two ladies eating brunch? Lastly, Pepsi attempted to seem diverse and multicultural by including POC faces and characters, like the Muslim hijabi photographer, but they all felt like props and tokens to further Jenner’s “heroic” moment — and sell the product.

Pepsi’s ad is obviously inspired by Black Lives Matter protests and other demonstrations that have come after, so why is the only black woman in the video used as an object to serve Jenner? Black women, especially queer black women, pioneered the BLM movement and have been on the front lines of these protests. Pepsi didn’t only commercialize these protests — they added insult to injury by depoliticizing them. The company seems to be trying to appeal to a politically aware generation but fails to realize that movements and protests are not a trend to be trivialized.

Fortunately, the ad was met with strong (and justified) criticism. Much of the backlash surrounded the ad’s oversimplification of protests and the very real struggles of racism and police brutality that minorities face. Bernice King, the daughter of legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., perfectly called out the ad’s problems. King tweeted a picture of her father being pushed back by police officers during the Civil Rights Movement with the caption: “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” If only.

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