America’s favorite brands are responsible for some of the most memorable television commercials, often leaving a lasting mark in advertising history.
Among these is a questionable commercial recently released by PepsiCo that definitely has a lot of people talking, but in a way Pepsi probably didn’t anticipate. If you haven’t actually seen the commercial itself, you have probably heard about it, as the public’s outrage has been made inevitable.
The commercial itself, which has since been pulled by Pepsi, shows model Kendall Jenner leaving a photoshoot to join a protest, with a Pepsi in hand. Jenner makes her way through the crowd to the line of law enforcement and hands an officer a can of Pepsi which, as a result, releases the tension and causes the crowd to celebrate.
Although it is not clearly demonstrated what the crowd is protesting, several have related it to the Black Lives Matter movement, because of its frequent presence in the country.
I believe the central issue at hand is that Pepsi manipulated a sensitive issue as a means of selling their product. The problem with this is the fact that our country is clearly racially divided and this issue has yet to be resolved. Suggesting a soft drink is the answer to ending police brutality among African Americans is unrealistic, distasteful and fallacious.
Whether she was well-known or not, using a caucasian model was definitely not the route to go either. Instead, it only further suggests that because of her ethnicity, she was able to come that close into contact with an officer in the first place without any backlash.
Sparking even more outrage, Pepsi issued a general apology for the commercial, but also apologized to Jenner specifically, saying they were sorry for putting her in such a position. Pepsi forgot to directly apologize to those they have misappropriated, the thousands of protesters massed and arrested for standing up for their rights.
Some of the people who responded to the ad included prominent individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter Bernice King and Black Lives Matter activist Elle Hearns.
King tweeted a photo of her father at a protest captioning the photo, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”
Hearns was quoted in the New York Times saying the ad “plays down the sacrifices people have historically taken in utilizing protests. No one is finding joy from Pepsi at a protest. That’s just not the reality of our lives. That’s not what it looks like to take bold action.”
I agree with the previous statements, and given the nature of the history of protests in the United States, peaceful or violent, it’s not a subject to use out of context or play with.
Companies can successfully incorporate real problems into advertisements to raise awareness when it is done appropriately. This has been accomplished in ads such as domestic violence intervention and preventing texting and driving by providing the necessary devices to create change within their advertisement.
Despite the reactions to the commercial, it still has people talking about the brand and sometimes any P.R. is good P.R.. After the commercial was released, Pepsi’s stock went up. Stock market aside, people have been drinking Pepsi since 1898 and one short advertisement is not going to cause the soda company to go out of business. The reputation of the brand is temporarily suffering, but just as most things in the media do, the situation will be short-lived and eventually subside.
Any brand could realistically fall into this position without carefully evaluating possible consequences from their message and this should be used as an example for brands in the future.
Alexandra Enayat can be contacted at email@example.com