One of the biggest names in the soft drink industry is under attack for the insensitivity of its most recent advertisement, featuring Kendall Jenner in a recreation of a real-life protest. From an outsider’s perspective, widespread complaints may seem worthy of an eye roll. Understanding what caused such a harsh reaction, however, explains why this piece of media can’t be trusted.
First and foremost, by putting together a joyful, ideal protest for their commercial, Pepsi undermines the harsh reality of those who have participated in such events and implies that they can be avoided through the use of their product. The overall message, therefore, is offensive and unrealistic.
Of course, there are many other problems with the advertisement that should be avoided in this day and age. The mood of the march and its participants, for one, comes across as ingenuine. The audience doesn’t get emotionally involved, as they’re never shown any powerful feelings from the protesters - simply smiles accompanied by a fun, mellow atmosphere. It may be enjoyable to watch, but it’s not based in reality.
Another issue is the casting of Kendall Jenner and her actions as the mediator. It’s insulting to emphasize that an attractive, wealthy Caucasian who marched in a multicultural protest for a mere five minutes could ward off police by handing an officer a can of pop. Pepsi should have considered that protests cannot be stopped in such a quick, peaceful manner, and that cashing in on the harsh experiences of potential consumers is no way to receive praise.
The final and perhaps most concerning issue with the advertisement is the indication of Pepsi’s limited culture knowledge. The company’s leaders likely had little variation in age, gender, race, and other relevant characteristics, which led to the commercial’s approved release and backlash from the more diversified public.
In an attempt to defend Pepsi, many spectators have compared the advertisement to Coca-Cola’s hilltop commercial which aired in 1971. However, Coca-Cola properly executed their marketing strategy by creating an artificial event and encouraging the ‘peace and love’ message of the seventies. Compare that to Pepsi, who downplays a real-life event by replacing passion with carelessness, and the contrast is stark. Additionally, Pepsi claims to have the power to put a stop to personal divide on a grand scale, while Coca-Cola simply calls for unity without claiming they can achieve it.
Some people think the abundant disgust of spectators is an overreaction to Pepsi’s latest advertisement, but by investigating the commercial’s flaws, we come out with a better understanding of those around us and of the marketing industry.