Pepsi Poorly Executed an Ad Meant for Unity


Pepsi’s latest commercial starring model Kendall Jenner is causing uproar on social media. For those who have not seen it, the commercial is about two and a half minutes long and centers around a march. Participants in the march hold signs that say “Join the conversation,” and “Peace” while others themselves simply have peace signs and hearts on them.

Three highlights of the commercial are: a man playing the cello, a female Muslim photographer wearing a hijab, and Kendall Jenner. Jenner is posing for a photo shoot, the photographer is aggressively (and with much frustration) going through her pictures, and the cello player is, well, playing his cello. All three of them stop what they are doing to join the march.

The people in the crowd are marching with their fists in the air, dancing in the street, high fiving, mingling and making friends. They are young and old, different races and creeds, they have various talents and are exploring it all together. All in all, it seems like a fun community. Jenner enters the crowd dressed casually in jeans, squeezing by and dapping up random people. Then the moment of truth – with a Pepsi in hand, she walks up to a cop and gives him her unopened beverage. He opens it, takes a sip and the crowd cheers while the photographer captures the moment on camera.

Seems pretty positive, motivational, and like it addresses problems we face in modern times right? Not quite.

The commercial is actually poorly executed. If the goal of the commercial was to shed light on a major problem we are facing in America, while also promoting peace (which is the only message I could pick out), they do a bad job of it. Not to mention, it sure did not make me want a Pepsi. If you can’t tell the commercial is actually extraordinarily inappropriate. Let’s work our way backwards.

We will start with Jenner handing the cop a can of Pepsi. This is an attempt at addressing the problem of police brutality. By handing the officer the Pepsi, Jenner is supposed to be promoting peace, and his heroic move to accept it is commended by the masses. For what, though? Who cares that the cop drank the Pepsi? He is still a cop on duty. Quenching his thirst is no grand signifier of peace and it sure does not end police brutality.

On top of that, him accepting the drink from Jenner spreads no message. As a white female, especially a famous one, she has white privilege to last a lifetime (literally). She does not represent the diverse crowd behind her marching for peace, nor does she represent the hundreds, even thousands of people who face discrimination in this country everyday because of their race, or religion. She does not represent oppression and her being sent as a liaison between the police, whom many of the members of the crowd may fear, does not guarantee any of their safety.

If Pepsi had chosen to have a young black boy, or even the photographer deliver the drink, then maybe they would have gotten it a little more right, but they didn’t.

Moving on, let’s talk about this march. This is the hardest part of the entire commercial to deconstruct because there are many layers to what is wrong with it, due to the fact that it holds so many implications while not fully addressing or acknowledging the very thing it copies from. (A bit like cultural appropriation, but I digress.)

This march is supposed to represent the protests that come in response to the deaths of innocent black people as a result of police brutality. We know this because if that was not the case then there would be no reason to address or include the cop. Are we seeing the connection?

We can also tell that this march represents the protests because of the fists in the air. A fist in the air is a popular symbol of black power used throughout the civil rights movement and into today. Don’t believe me? Literally Google the words “black power,” go to images, and tell me what comes up…I’ll wait. The fist represents solidarity, unity, and resistance to violence, just to name a few. Therefore, what other reason is there to include the raised fist in the air?

Now you might ask, “Kiana, if this march is supposed to represent the Black Lives Matter movement, and the protests carried out by it, then why didn’t Pepsi just make it a Black Lives Matter protest?” Well, need I remind you of Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance? Not very well received. Also, could you imagine the response it would have gotten from those who oppose the Black Lives Matter movement? The internet would explode, before you knew it Bill O’Reilly would tell his viewers to stop buying Pepsi, and there would be boycotts on our campus and petitions passed around Bartels to make U.N.H. a Coke school. Too real? Good, hopefully now you understand the community you live in.

Further, let us peel back another layer. Let’s continue the idea that this is modeled after the Black Lives Matter movement. Since the crowd is so clearly diverse and everyone is enjoying their time: one, it is a march, not a protest, and two, it sends the message that All Lives Matter. Now, if you follow the All Lives Matter movement, I am not here to support or argue your opinion. That does not mean that it is okay to substitute one message for another, to make viewers more comfortable.