Pepsi Global via Youtube
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard Pepsi has recently been under fire for a significantly tone-deaf commercial starring Kendall Jenner, showing her handing a can of Pepsi to a police officer in the midst of a protest. Not only does this disrespect valid and powerful movements like Black Lives Matter, it minimizes the danger protesters put themselves in under the current administration.
In a nearly-three minute ad, we see Kendall Jenner in the midst of a photoshoot. She tears off her wig and decides to join in on the protest marching by. In a moment that entirely fell flat, she hands a police offer a can of Pepsi. Everyone rejoices. Racism is over. So many long-term protests - Women March on Washington, #NODAPL - would've been resolved if only someone had some Pepsi.
On an equally bleak level, Pepsi issued a statement yesterday apologizing for the commercial: "Pepsi was trying to project a global a 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 pulling the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position."
This begs the question: why apologize to Kendall Jenner, who was paid and participated in the making of the commercial at her own free will? Pepsi is refusing to address the valid reasoning of protesters nation-wide, much less apologize to them, which is careless and dismissive. According to the Washington Post, a public policy lecturer at Harvard University by the name of Robert Livingston had this to say about Pepsi's lukewarm statement: "The apology to Jenner was misplaced, not just because it infantilizes her, but because it doesn't address the real source of the offense. The apology should have been directed toward the protesters and the movement itself, which their ad appears to trivialize."
Pepsi's role in the current advertising market is a significant one, as they have a long history of using celebrities as endorsements. This ad came into being at a time where Nivia and Playstation have come up with similarly tone-deaf and offensive campaigns. If this isn't an indication that public relations departments need to start hiring more people of color, I'm not sure what is.
If there's one thing, it's that this commercial brought out a powerful response on the internet, especially from Martin Luther King's daughter Bernice King:
If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi. pic.twitter.com/FA6JPrY72V
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 5, 2017
We did this in Baltimore. Nothing changed @pepsi pic.twitter.com/YveSvfmpYu
— Wings Connoisseur (@YeahItsWilly) April 5, 2017
If I had carried Pepsi I guess I never would've gotten arrested. Who knew?
— deray mckesson (@deray) April 5, 2017
Pepsi, we have this to say: we will not be ignored. Our voices matter despite your attempt to invalidate them. Our voices will continue to stand together - not only despite your commercial, but because of it. At least there's that.