Pepsi’s divisive new ad featuring Kendall Jenner has received much criticism since its release, as it rightly should. In placing Jenner at the head of a protest, Pepsi fabricates the image of a white savior liberating the downtrodden minorities, which isn’t an acceptable visual to be used to sell soda.
Pepsi is a corporation, not a person. The idea that this particular ad went through multiple people and departments and was still approved is so clearly wrong. In this age of direct contact with celebrities and companies through Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and even Tumblr, interactions with average users and those who run the company accounts make that connection feel real. So Pepsi’s lukewarm statement to The New York Times apologizing for their misstep isn’t evidence of the mistake of a single person. This effort to “project a global message of unity, peace and understanding” was a calculated move on the part of a company in the hopes to sell Pepsi.
That’s what advertising is for — it’s to get consumers to open their wallets and go buy their products. If it comes across as creative or touches you in some way in the process, it’s only further proof of effective marketing. They’re only apologizing because they tried to appeal to our emotions like advertisers always do, but this time they did it in a way that made it blatant. We noticed, and it didn’t go well, so now they have to backtrack. It’s like they’ve been playing on our emotions from the shadows, but this time around a light went off and lit them up and we all noticed.
I’m as susceptible to this as anyone; that Extra gum commercial about a couple’s relationship while a slow cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” plays? I’m a mess just thinking about it — that’s one of the softest, sweetest ads ever, and it made me want gum, so kudos to Extra for tugging at my heartstrings. At the end of the day, though, Extra, just like Pepsi, was just trying to do that: get me to buy gum. That adorable couple isn’t real, and neither is Pepsi’s protest composed of outrageously attractive people from all ethnicities, races and sexualities coming together for an unspecified call to action that also involves a police standoff.
And even if it were real, and Pepsi wanted to point-blank reference the Black Lives Matter movement, which it hinted to with the visual of a lone woman against a police brigade, you don’t use a rich, white woman to be the champion of minorities. Honestly, anyone from the Kardashian family would have been an extremely poor choice, so their inclusion of Kendall isn’t an exception.
That’s not what a protest looks like; the marchers already seem happy and peaceful and one with each other, so what’s there to protest against besides the seemingly thirsty police officers? And even if it’s meant to say that the police were the only problems the marchers were protesting, how does it make sense to make Kendall Jenner, a woman with privilege coming not only from her skin color but from her wealth and celebrity status, the solution to this conflict? Again, this isn’t what a protest is. A protest is defiance, not appeasement, and quenching the thirst of a grumpy police officer isn’t an end to racism.
Going forward, it’s great that commercials want to keep up with the changing events of the day and use that to their advantage for marketing purposes. But when it comes to appropriating an entire racial movement that only began because of the deaths of innocent people, all just to be used in an ad campaign led by a privileged, attention-seeking white girl, I draw a bold line in the sand. With the social unrest present in our country at this moment, companies need to keep away from trivializing what protests mean to the people who have had enough taken from them that it becomes the only way to have their voices heard.