World Peace, In A Can: Dissecting ‘That’ Pepsi Ad

Kirstie Sutherland /
Apr 11, 2017 / Opinion

Media controversy is a hot topic right now.

The latest in a cycle of provocations came fresh from PepsiCo last week, with an advert starring Kendall Jenner that seemed to paint the young reality star as a messiah with a penchant for solving all world issues regarding race, gender and religion. You know the one – you saw it.

Of course, this is all a load of bull. The ad, featuring Jenner as the rich, cis white female against a rally backdrop featuring members of the LGBT and POC communities left a bad taste in most people’s mouths. While this may be a simplified reaction, the ad essentially displayed to the audience that everything can be solved with a sip of the fizzy stuff. God, if that were true, think of the utopian world we would be living in right now? We’d be forever in debt to the PepsiCo giants. Sadly, this is not the case.

Everyone knows that large brands love celebrity endorsements to promote their brand; it’s nothing new. While I’m not the biggest fan of the Kardashians, having yet to watching more than 5 minutes of a KUWTK episode without falling asleep, I know that they have a ginormous pull in every possible media sphere. However, using Kendall Jenner in an advert like this was a crass and offensive decision. While it’s not the worst thing she could have done by a long mile – it has to be said that while she agreed to appear in the advert, it is mainly the company at fault – it’s not the best career move.

There are several instances in which black, Asian and other minorities are marginalised and cast aside within the advert while Jenner takes centre stage, reigning supreme and solving the crowd’s issues due to her position at the forefront. Many critics have seen this marginalisation as overtly racist and, most importantly, a symbol of causes such as #BlackLivesMatter being cast as small and trivial things. While we know that these things will not be solved by a can of Pepsi, and I sincerely hope the brand don’t mean this, the idea that a march depicted in the advert can be solved by something as small as a giving a can of Pepsi to a police officer to keep the peace is quite ridiculous and doesn’t totally make sense, both in terms of advertising and in the brand’s overall message. Hell, they’re a soft drinks company. We shouldn’t be having to talk about these issues in relation to Pepsi of all things really, should we? This is not a good way to go about overthrowing Coca-Cola as the refreshment king either, to be honest.

The backlash from the article was definitely not what the company were expecting, with Twitter in particular descending into chaos as meme after meme appeared within hours of the advert’s premiere. Some of the responses were understandably very angry at the entire situation, with a tweet from Bernice King, daughter of the late Martin Luther King, being one of the most powerful:

Within a day, the company withdrew the advert and published this statement: “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.”

With the pulling of the ad, it can be seen as a victory of the company’s clear stupidity. What begs the question most of all is how the advert, which I presume went through several stages before being decided upon as the finished article, managed to pass through without anyone realising the potential reaction? The statement also tries its hardest to protect Jenner herself (her mother’s influence, perhaps?), making sure she is not to blame for her decision. However, I am not so sympathetic. Myself and Jenner are the same age and I am able to see this advert for what it is almost immediately: ridiculous and not a good way to advertise bloody fizzy drinks.

While this advert also begs the question of whether the entire world is going a bit too crazy over political correctness and cultural appropriation, in PepsiCo and Jenner’s instance, it is far too blatant to be construed as a mistake; thank God we don’t have to see it overpopulating our social media feeds for the rest of the year after all.

Words by Kirstie Sutherland

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