The infamous Pepsi commercial starring Kendall Jenner, released earlier this month, outraged many viewers by incorporating protest imagery and implying that social injustices could be solved by something as simple as offering a policeman a soft drink.
The video wasn’t even online for 24 hours before Pepsi pulled the ad with an accompanying statement saying, “Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.”
I think it’s a shame that Pepsi felt the need to apologize.
The majority of angry responses on Twitter stemmed from the false assumption that the commercial was specifically referring to violence between police officers and African-Americans. The New York Times article on the advertisement even said it “borrowed imagery from the Black Lives Matter movement” and “trivialized the killings of black people by police.”
Further adding to the misconception was the comparison of a shot of Kendall Jenner to a photo of Black Lives Matter activist Ieshia Evans standing in opposition to police.
Bjorn Charpentier, the ad’s director of photography, said in an interview with TMZ that the commercial wasn’t an homage to the photograph of Ieshia Evans or by the Black Lives Matter movement at all. Instead, the inspiration came from photographs of Vietnam War protesters offering flowers to police officers.
While the commercial did feature African-Americans, it also represented people of a wide range of races, religions and sexual orientations.
Featuring nothing but vague signs such as, “Join the conversation” and “Love,” Jenner and her horde of attractive young people could have been protesting just about anything. Ironically, the generic nature of the fictional protest was probably a deliberate attempt by Pepsi to be as inoffensive as possible.
Another concern many people had with the ad was that the lighthearted tone made important protests throughout history seem like trivial social gatherings rather than dangerous, risky work.
Among those who expressed this sentiment was Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., who tweeted, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”
I think it’s important to put the video in context before getting offended. First and foremost, the advertisement’s purpose was to convince consumers to buy Pepsi because it’s a drink that people of all backgrounds and beliefs can enjoy together.
Is the fictional protest in the commercial a realistic depiction of the struggles of different marginalized groups? Absolutely not. However, we have to remember that very few commercials are accurate depictions of reality. Pepsi employees are not truly suggesting that offering someone a soft drink can solve anyone’s problems.
Some argued that the Pepsi ad failed because they didn’t reference a specific movement or take a side. While it’s true that many brands nowadays do make political statements in advertisements, they have no obligation to do so and shouldn’t be punished for staying neutral.
While it’s true that the commercial was cheesy, idealistic and a contrived attempt at pandering to the millennial generation, at least it had a positive message of unity. The Pepsi ad never pretended to be anything other than a soda commercial, and it’s a shame that the brand now suffers for it.