Oh lawd! When I heard conversation on social media that Kendall Jenner’s new Pepsi ad was receiving backlash, I expected it to be awful, but not that awful.
The new Pepsi ad tried to address themes of burning interest to millenials, like brunch, dabbin’ and protest. It primarily features a massive protest populated by young people marching through the streets. You can’t tell what exactly the protest is for or against, since none of the signs have anything with meaning written on them, and say things like ‘<3’ or ‘join the conversation’. Kendall Jenner, who is in the middle of a photo shoot, sees the march, wipes off her lipstick and joins the protest. At the protest, she does nothing but walk to the front of the march and hand over a can of Pepsi to a police officer, causing the crowd to erupt joyfully.
It’s honestly the weirdest thing I’ve seen all day, and tone deaf on so many levels, primarily on the level of a white woman becoming the star of a protest by distributing cans of Pepsi to police officers. The idea of romanticising police officers and befriending them or shaking their hands at protests is so annoying to me, especially given police history in attacking protesters the world over (including in India during the protests after the December 16th, 2012 gang rape in Delhi), and given the recent rise in protests against police brutality and racism in the police force in the United States.
Anyway, it isn’t surprising that Pepsi could get something like this so incredibly wrong, though: it’s not like they have any strong and consistent love for protests or protest culture or anything. You may remember that the very same Pepsi, during the height of student protests at Film and Television Institute of India over Gajendra Chauhan becoming it’s new chairman, released an ad in India mocking student protest culture and hunger strikes in an ad that was about as tone deaf as this new American one, but also completely on the opposite side. It points out yet again just how easy it’s become for brands to co-opt just about anything under the sun, and to get it totally wrong when they do too.
The new Pepsi ad, as far off the mark as it is, also reminds me of this piece in the Guardian that talks about how brands have woken up to the idea that activism sells in the current political and social climate, and are leveraging this change in every way that they can.