Now I’ve never been a Pepsi fan. Given the choice, I’d take a Coke every time. I’ve also never understood why a large majority of my generation is obsessed with the Kardashians. But if I thought I despised them before they trivialized decades of civil rights protests and the recent Black Lives Matter movements in a mere two-and-a-half minutes, I surely loathe them now.
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen — or at least heard — of the controversial Pepsi ad that features Kendall Jenner, the second youngest of the Kardashian clan, leaving a photoshoot to join a protest, making peace with a barricade of police officers by handing one of them a can of Pepsi.
At least, that’s what they tried to do.
It’s almost as if the parent company, Pepsi Co., doesn’t understand the point of a protest, let alone the motives behind one. They used a current social media mogul (in the eyes of the millennial generation) to lead a fake protest. The marchers are holding signs that say “Join the Conversation” and nearly everyone is smiling, laughing or clapping before erupting into widespread celebration when Jenner solves everything that’s ever been worth protesting about with a can of Pepsi.
This isn’t what protesting police brutality looks like. This isn’t even what a protest looks like. It doesn’t convey any of the desperation and danger that protesters go through for a cause that they’re passionate about.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Bernice King, tweeted her response, summing up nearly everything wrong with the ad in just a few words.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 5, 2017
Was a can of Pepsi the only thing that Rosa Parks needed in order to keep her seat on the bus? Was a soft drink the simple solution to ending segregation and prejudice? Is it really that simple? Could oppression have ended with a cold can of soda? Because that’s what Pepsi seemed to think when they created the storyboards for this campaign, which they pulled less than 24 hours after release — and before the ad ever aired on TV — due to almost immediate backlash from the internet.
Another tweet pointed out the similarities between Jenner’s “confrontation” with the line of officers and Iesha Evan’s encounter with them shortly before she was arrested during a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.
Kendall Jenner: Can I copy off of you?
Iesha Evans: No.
Kendall:* Looks over shoulder anyway*
Damn that. I'm getting this Pepsi money. pic.twitter.com/NUXwCZnM7p
— Jer'Cedrick Hansberry (@GuruBluXVIII) April 4, 2017
A statement by the company tweeted after the decision to pull the ad was made final reads, “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. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”
Why apologize to Jenner? Why not apologize to the millions of people who were likely offended by the tone-deaf ad? Jenner is a grown woman who is more than capable of reading a script and reading storyboards. She knew the content of the campaign and agreed to become the focus of it. No one should feel bad for her. It’s not like her decision to shoot the commercial was even remotely for financial reasons; she consented on her own.
For her to have allegedly claimed that she is “traumatised” after a “painful and embarrassing” situation is a joke — and a bad one, at that. It’s almost worse than the ad.
Instead of lightly implying that the decades-long fight for racial equality could have been smoothed over had someone brought Pepsi along with them, the company ThirtyRev “fixed” the initial ad. They played Skip Marley’s “Lions” (the same song Pepsi used) over legitimate footage of people protesting at Standing Rock and ending the ad with the slogan “water is life” underneath the Pepsi logo. Since the video was posted, the song has been muted due to copyright issues, but they’ve got the right idea.
Coca-Cola’s 2014 and 2017 Superbowl commercial, celebrating America’s diversity, is the type of ad campaign that Pepsi should be trying to compete with. For some reason, they haven’t yet figured this out and it’s unlikely that they will anytime soon.