Why The Pepsi Advert Was So Controversial


There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the new  Pepsi advert that features Kendall Jenner at a protest. A protest for what exactly, remains a mystery as the protesters are carrying vague and generic signs such as “Join the conversation” and “Peace”.

Some have said that the imagery is similar to the Black Lives Matter protests, particularly because of the striking similarities between Kendall Jenner’s gesture of approaching the police officers with a can of Pepsi, and the image of Ieshia Evans at the Baton Rouge protest following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling after they were shot by the police. Comparing the two individuals unsurprisingly offended a lot of people. The fact that Kendall diffuses all of the friction between the protesters and the police with a can of Pepsi completely trivialises important issues such as Black Lives Matter protests and the bravery that Ieshia showed in that moment.

Photo Credit:// Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

Photo Credit:// Bernice King Screenshot/Twitter

It begins by depicting multicultural, aspiring artists who seem to lack inspiration and passion with their work. They are both intrigued by the protest that is going on outside and decide to join in, bringing their instruments of artistry with them. Kendall Jenner is shown to be on a photoshoot, posing and pouting whilst looking out onto the protest with surprise and intrigue. She is invited to join by one of the attractive artists, deciding to dramatically rip off her blonde wig and wipe off her lipstick before doing so. This gesture is supposed to suggest that Kendall is becoming “one of the people”, abandoning her responsibilities with the fashion industry to help speak up about the important issue of the unnamed protest. When she joins in, she too becomes one of the smiling protesters involved in the light-hearted affair. Kendall then gets the revolutionary idea of walking up to one of the officers and handing them a can of Pepsi, which he accepts. Everyone erupts into cheers and applause, and any tension between the police officers and the protestors appears to vanish as the officer takes a swig of Pepsi. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?!

Photo Credit:// Pepsi Screenshot/ Youtube

Another aspect that stood out to me was how happy the protesters appeared to be. I have never personally taken part in a protest, and I can imagine that uniting with people with similar passions can be exhilarating. However, the majority of the time, protests are in response to important issues such as police shootings, bans on abortion or the pay gap between the sexes. There are also many cases of police brutality during such protests, which is why depicting them as so enjoyable is incredibly insensitive and offensive to those who have experienced the reality of it. The advert also shows people dancing and laughing together, making it almost appear like a party. Again, this very much undermines the bravery and strength that it takes to stand up for what you believe in.

Yet another one of Pepsi’s mistakes was being vague and noncommittal about what protest or issue they were actually tackling/mimicking. The ad was an odd mixture of political issues and light-hearted celebrations , which unsurprisingly didn’t go down well. I think it’s fair to say that if you’re going to be so bold as to merge Pepsi with politics, it needs to be equally as bold in its execution.

After sharing my thoughts, I do feel that Pepsi’s heart was in the right place and that they had good intentions. Merging an advert for a product with strong political messages is always going to be risky. To pull it off, you have to be sensitive and respectful, which is something that Pepsi failed to deliver on when choosing to go with such a light-hearted approach. They made many serious mistakes within this advert that have dragged their own and Kendall Jenner’s brand through the mud.

I feel that Lena Dunham’s tweet on the issue is an appropriate way to conclude.

Photo Credit:// Lena Dunham Screenshot/Twitter

Featured Image Photo Credit:// Pepsi Screenshot/Youtube

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