Earlier this year in April, Pepsi debuted a controversial commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. The commercial portrays a peaceful march in protest happening along the streets, holding up signs that says “Join the conversation.” The protest continues on throughout the whole commercial where protestors will soon come face to face with policemen in a stand-off. Among these protestors are blacks, whites, muslims, gay and transexuals and other minority groups; they all come together to protest for their rights, for peace and for justice. The next scene shifts to a muslim woman creating a portrait or drawing however, she becomes frustrated with her work, grabs her camera and heads outside to join the protest to capture the essence of the revolution. Meanwhile, an asian man who plays the cello hears the protest and goes outside to his balcony to check it out while drinking a Pepsi. Kendall Jenner just happens to be doing a photoshoot outside of a building in front of the protest. Throughout the commercial she continuously gets distracted during the photoshop by looking out toward the protest. Towards the end of the commercial, she makes eye contact with the asian cellist in which he gives her a head nod and she then decides to strip off her blond wig and wipe off her lipstick and join the protest. The next scene shows her in a more casual, dress down attire with a more natural makeup look. She then proceeds to grab a Pepsi, stride to the front of the crowd and hands it to one of the police officers who takes a sip it, smiles and nods approvingly to the officer besides him. The crowd cheers and triumphs in victory of resolving the problems and finding peace.
Pepsi wanted to target a multicultural society. Throughout the commercial, there were portrayals of a very diverse group such as the asian cellist, the muslim photographer, black breakdancers, and gay and transexual protestors. Many of the protestors were rather young, the revolutionaries of today’s modern society. The depiction of younger protestors of different walks of life will target a younger audience for several reasons. One reason being, older ones are stuck in their ways, they are not use to nor as open to change. With a fix mind on how society should be and how social order should be kept, this commercial would not appeal to their pathos. Another reason deals with the open mind attitude and mentality of the millennials who are accepting of change and often are the change makers of today’s society. Therefore, appealing to the younger crowds and minorities will draw in a larger and wider consumer base. Pepsi portrayed these different cultural groups in hopes that consumers will acknowledge Pepsi’s support for change and therefore the consumer will support Pepsi.
Although Pepsi unavoidably offended a mass amount of people; their intention was not to start up conflict or belittle social issues. Immediately after the commercial ad aired, Pepsi was under severe scrutiny from the public. Millions of people attacked not only the company but the star of the commercial, Kendall Jenner. The company made a statement just days after their controversial commercial debut stating, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize.” (Gajanan, Pepsi Pulls Kendall 2017.) Though their message was not conveyed properly, once hearing their motive, you can see their intent throughout the commercial. The unity of a multicultural group portrayed, uniting together for the same goal, peace and equality. They wanted to make an ad that could encourage and uplift people, bring people together in a world of unconscious biases and segregation. The commercial could’ve also been a portrayal of hope; at the end of the commercial the police and protestors resolved the issue when he drinks the Pepsi and finally there is peace. Pepsi tried to send a reassuring message to those who are outcasted by society, a hope that maybe one day there will be peace and they will find justice. Their intentions were not articulated correctly and as a result, many citizens criticized the ad. The company also made another statement regarding the issue which states,”We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.” (Gajanan, Pepsi Pulls Kendall 2017.) Quickly, they recognized their error, pulled the commercial out and stopped any further rollout and apologized to Kendall Jenner for putting her in such an uncomfortable, overwhelming position.
As the ad aired, it was also streamed via internet, mainly youtube and posted and reposted via social media millions of times within days. News channels, journalist, comedians, talk show host and bloggers dissected the commercial, piece by piece, scene by scene, analyzing and evaluating it. One article states, “Tone deaf. Clueless. Insensitive. Those are just a few of the words used to describe the Pepsi ad.” ( Jones and Roger, 2017.) Such strong convictions are said from many other scholars who have watched and thoroughly evaluated the ad. Jimmy Kimmel made a statement on his talk show, “The fact that this somehow made it through, I can’t imagine how many meetings, and edits, and pitches, and then got the thumbs-up from who knows how many people is absolutely mind-boggling,” (Jones and Roger, 2017.) SNL created a skit, mocking how tone deaf the commercial is. During the skit, the director is shooting the commercial in which during a break he calls his sister and talks to several people, including a black person who advise him to rework the idea and vision for the ad.”It’s an homage to the resistance,” Bennett says in the sketch, while trying to convince his sister that it is a good idea. “Isn’t that, like, the best ad ever?” (Gajanan, SNL 2017.) At the end of the skit, Kendall Jenner played by Cecily Strong is on the phone with a friend as she explains her role in the commercial, telling her fried that she stop the police from shooting black people by giving them a Pepsi which she then calls the commercial “cute.” One reason for this uproar is the representative of the peace maker in the ad, Kendall Jenner. Kendall Jenner, a heterosexual, privileged white female who grew up in mansions and is socially accepted because she is part of the majority has not a clue of what struggles, trails and tribulations the minority have to face on a daily. Even within the commercial, she is shown posing for a photoshoot as she curiously looks at the protestors marching. She is shown as an outsider observing a movement, not knowing who the protestors are or what they’re protesting about. Pepsi failed to be socially aware of the conflict between social and cultural boarders. “The most disturbing part is her approaching the police through white privilege, in a way that all other folks might not have been able to,” said Shalini Shankar, professor of anthropology at Northwestern University.” (Jones and Roger, 2017.) During the ad, when the model approached the officer and hands the officer a can of Pepsi; upon seeing that she is white, he “calls off the tear gas, puts his shield and gun down and happily accepts the “peace offering.”
“The ad also blundered by doing what critics say is still all too common on Madison Avenue, as well as in Hollywood — putting a white hero at the center of the action, while people of color are reduced to props in the background.” (Jones and Roger, 2017.) Another cause of offense and backlash was the portrayal of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Although it isn’t verbally said in the ad, the imagery throughout the ad strongly depicts the movement during the seen where there is a standoff against the people and the police. Critics felt that it belittled, made light of, trivialized the recent protest of police brutality against black men and boys. One key critical analysis of the commercial was the comparison of Kendall Jenner’s role and Iesha Evans. The scene with Kendall standing before the police looks unsettlingly familiar to the picture taken of Iesha Evans, a black woman who peacefully stood alone in the street in front of armed, geared and shield police men. In early July, 2016 in Baton Rouge Louisiana, Iesha said not a single word as she stood there silently during her first protest after the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by policemen. A picture was snapped right before several police men approached her and detained her.
Pepsi’s intent and idea was good however, the executive was not; instead of having Kendall Jenner, an upper class socialite, be the solution between minorities and the law enforcers, a member of the minority should have been the representative. A black or muslim male or female would’ve better suited the part for the voice of the people since they are part of the people. Pepsi could’ve also portrayed a more sensitive way of Pepsi uniting them. During this day in age, police brutality, gay marriage, muslim ban and racial discrimination is affecting society and is a very sensitive subject, especially to the ones who’ve lost loved ones or the ones part of the discriminated group. Therefore, instead of using the Pepsi to symbolize peace, it should focus on symbolizing unity among the minority groups. Rather than having the police officer be swayed by one sip of Pepsi that is allegedly supposed to change his deeply entrenched views of social change; the commercial should show how all these groups rally together to be each others stronghold during such a trying time. Social issues should never be taken lightly by money hungry companies who want to increase their sales because like in this case, it could backfire.