On April 5, Pepsi pulled a two-and-a-half-minute commercial that caused controversy due to its tone-deaf attitude towards the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality.
The commercial aimed to “reflect people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony,” according to Pepsi.
The commercial begins by showing a man of Asian descent playing cello on a rooftop and then cuts to a woman wearing a hijab organizing photos on a table. Quickly after this, the viewer gets a brief glimpse of a generic protest happening in the background of Kendall Jenner’s photo shoot.
After noticing the protest, the man with the cello and the woman wearing the hijab join the protest. The man with the cello makes eye contact with Jenner and persuades her with a simple head nod to join the movement. The protest comes up to a police line, which prompts Jenner to hand a police officer a Pepsi in an attempt to acknowledge peace between the forces.
At first, I really liked this commercial. To me, any company willing to show that they have the capacity to acknowledge diverse groups of people uniting together is great in my book, and I’d like to see that concept progress more throughout the marketing industry.
However, I never really put too much thought into the commercial until I heard that it had been pulled due to controversy. After reading into why people had malice towards Pepsi’s commercial, I quickly came to realize that this commercial is actually really problematic.
The commercial aims to unite people in an imitation of protests against police brutality, which is great, except for the fact that it belittles all of the movements aiming to change the way police and minorities interact with one another.
The protest in the commercial is undeniably reminiscent of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is completely misconstrued throughout this ad. The overall vibe of the commercial is somewhat like a music festival. Participants are shown having fun, dancing, and taking artsy photographs of the participants walking down the street.
At one point, it showed two women sticking their tongues out and throwing up their hands as if they were standing front row at a concert. In real life, though, these events aren’t anything to dance at. People get brutally beaten, and in some cases even sprayed with tear gas.
When Kendall Jenner joined the protest, it seems as if she is doing it because it’s the cool thing to do. She “breaks free” from her modeling gig and joins what seems to be a fun block party, when, in reality, it is an allusion to an actual movement that is used to highlight systemic racism and belligerent neglectfulness towards minority groups.
What makes me most upset about this ad is that it uses the relationship between an oppressed group and the police to sell a product. Pepsi shows that if you give a Pepsi to the police, then they won’t spray you with mace and will join your movement in peace and prosperity.
In my book, Pepsi got it wrong with this ad. I’m all for companies showing their support for people of diverse backgrounds, but companies have to be aware that current issues shouldn’t be used to sell a product.
These issues are real, and these issues cannot be invalidated by some ad that makes it look like a party when there are groups of people that are being oppressed in today’s society, and all they strive for is change. Pepsi, however, is not the answer.