Pepsi Falls Flat With Kardashian Ad

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In recent years and months, the phrase “stay woke” has come to prominence. It means to stay aware and cognizant when it comes to social issues. Not only should individuals “stay woke,” but corporations should do so, too, especially when trying to market to this generation, who has voiced its discontent with various protests for everything from police brutality to the recent election.

However, yesterday, premier soda brand Pepsi dropped a commercial that is just tone deaf when it comes to protesters and rebellion against the machine. The commercial stars Kendall Jenner and has sparked outrage all over social media and beyond. In the commercial, the up-and-coming Kardashian is doing her thing as a model in a studio. She notices throngs of protesting young people outside, with signs and bullhorns and what not. After being summoned by a young Asian man to join the movement, Jenner leaves her shoot, handing her platinum blonde wig to a Black woman to hold and joins in. The commercial ends with Jenner approaching a grimacing police force (not dressed in the army gear we’re used to seeing them in at protests) and handing one a can of Pepsi. The crowd goes nuts as the cop takes a swig of the Pepsi and smiles. 

Despite the social media backlash Pepsi stands behind the horrifically bad ad. In a statement to Ad Week, Pepsi Corp. said:

“This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.”

In an earlier statement to to the most woke publication, Teen Vogue, Pepsi Corp. stated:

“The creative showcases a moment of unity, and a point where multiple storylines converge in the final advert. It depicts various groups of people embracing a spontaneous moment, and showcasing Pepsi’s brand rallying cry to ‘Live For Now,’ in an exploration of what that truly means to live life unbounded, unfiltered and uninhibited.”

I understand the 'why' behind this marketing strategy but the execution is terrible. The coveted millennial consumer that Pepsi is targeting is known for building movements online and taking them to the streets with power and purpose. However, they are also extremely smart and discerning consumers who can see through thinly veiled attempts to woo them.

What Pepsi did is insinuate that oppressive police forces can be quelled with a can of soda. This undermines all of the peaceful protests that have occurred over the years. Protesters (especially those railing on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement) had to face blunt, brute force at the hands of police. If they got within arms reach of an officer they were likely to be pepper sprayed or tackled. A Monique Judge of The Root points out, the imagery of Jenner and the cop is comparable to Ieshia Evans, a protester in Baton Rouge who was famously photographed being snatched up by cops as she stands peacefully. Pepsi’s move seemed to be trying to tell everyone if you're friendly to police officers then there will be no need for protest, a slap in the face to the young people they are trying so hard to cater to.

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Pepsi really dropped the ball here. They downplayed the tension and stress protesters faced, virtually erased people of color from the image of protesting and presented a fictional cure for all of the discontent. To make matters worse, they think it's okay. It will not be surprising if Pepsi sees a decline in sales because they’ve really pissed people off with this one. 

About The Author

 Roger is the founder and Managing Partner at PCM. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife and 2-year-old son.

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