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If only ending an issue such as police brutality could be resolved over a smile and a soda, then the world would be a much more peaceful place. Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case. On April 5th, 2017 Pepsi released a new commercial in the U.S. that was quickly pulled just one day after being aired because of the backlash it received from the public. The video ad stars model and sister to the Kardashians, Kendall Jenner, who also received plenty of hate for appearing in the commercial. It is set in the streets of a city in which Jenner is modeling in a photo shoot when she sees a flood of protesters marching down the street. She decides to join the march after a nod from a young participant. The video ends with Jenner handing a can of Pepsi to one of the police men lined up facing the protesters. This gesture seems to bring a sense of peace between the protesters and the officers. The insensitive, unrealistic advertisement released by Pepsi was shining light on very serious topics such as police brutality, protest and other events that are currently affecting our world today.
There are so many components to this two minute, thirty second commercial that it’s hard to know where to begin, so I will start from the beginning. The first scene is of a can of Pepsi being audibly opened in slow motion. The frame then shows a young, asian male playing his cello aggressively on the rooftop of a building in a city. Background music begins to play and the camera cuts to a very large, diverse group of people happily walking down the street. These people are marchers carrying signs saying “Love”, “Join the Conversation” and other things in various languages. The company used the song, Lions, by Skip Marley to set the tone. The artist sings “We are the movement, this generation/You better know who we are, who we are” a great anthemic message. The song is all about bringing a nation of young people together to create powerful change. Right from the start, it is clear that Pepsi is trying to appeal to the millennial generation, but they do it the wrong way. They are using young protesters to relate their ad to what is currently going on in the world. The problem is that their idea of a protest is not realistic. In the commercial the protest looks like a social gathering; everyone is smiling, dancing and having fun when in reality, protesters are angry. Real world protesters are there to protect something they believe in. They are protesting out of necessity, not because it’s a fun thing to do on the weekends. Pepsi is trying to glamorize something that should be taken seriously for what it is.
Throughout the next couple of scenes, we are introduced to a young, female, Muslim photographer who is frustrated by her work. She also has a Pepsi on her desk which helps to remind the viewer what the commercial is actually for. Pepsi is using this woman to show diversity which is a main component of this ad. Then we see Kendall Jenner who is in the middle of a photoshoot that is taking place near the streets of the march. Jenner, as opposed to the muslim woman and the asian cellist, is featured in this commercial to appeal to the people who want to live a life similar to Jenners. She is young, successful, rich, skinny, white, and famous. The march continues, and it is now clear that people of any gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation are uniting to protest something that is unknown to the viewer. All of the signs are very vague and don’t give any indication as to what is being protested. Pepsi is using a pathos approach to attract us to their product. They used pathos continuously to try to appeal to the emotions of the viewer by showing people doing what they are passionate about like music, photography, dance, modeling, etc. People of all different backgrounds are coming together to stand up for something they believe in. By using a variety of people, they are trying to spread a message of equality and inclusion. Unfortunately, this message is contradicted several times over in the ad itself.
As the storyline continues, the man playing the cello has now joined the march as well as the female photographer. The cellist sees Jenner in her fake blonde wig, full makeup, and extravagant dress and indicates that she should join him in the march. The song reaches it’s peak as Jenner rips off her wig and smears her lipstick before walking into the flooded streets. A few seconds later, we see Jenner in a new outfit with her natural colored hair. Pepsi is attempting to promote natural beauty and authenticity, but once again the execution falls short. Although Jenner looks more natural, she still has just as much makeup on, her hair is done, and her outfit is designer. Another small moment that contradicts the message Pepsi is trying to promote is when Jenner rips off her wig, she tosses it to her black, female assistant without ever looking in her direction. This is not intentionally racist, but it could have been looked at more carefully and easily avoided.
The video ends with Jenner handing a Pepsi to one of the police men lined up facing the protesters. The protesters roar with excitement after a policeman takes a sip. This gesture seems to bring a sense of peace between the protesters and the officers. This moment is the most obviously shocking throughout the whole commercial. The hero of this story is Kendall Jenner, a rich, straight, white, model. It could have just as easily been the male cellist or the female photographer. The policemen at this protest are not armed or in full protective gear which is unrealistic, and a single can of Pepsi unites two groups of people who, historically, have rarely even acted civil with each other.
It could easily be argued that this advertisement is exploiting the Black Lives Matter Movement, that it is capitalizing on our country’s current struggle for equality, and that it is devaluing the efforts made by protests and marches, so why was it aired? This commercial has put into question Pepsico’s reputation as a company. The fact that no one at Pepsi saw this commercial and thought that it was poorly executed or that it may be taken negatively by the public, shows that Pepsi might have a lack of diversity in their marketing department or corporation as a whole. It is clearly an insensitive ad that could have been made great if only someone had spoken up at Pepsi before it aired.
Pepsi wanted to make a statement by airing this commercial. They wanted everyone to be represented and included. They wanted Pepsi to bring people of varied religion, race, sexuality and more together. Unfortunately, the message came across as one of ignorance. Pepsi seemed to have good intentions, but their improper use of diversity and exploitation of current events is where they fell far short. The misrepresentation of protests was insensitive and using a Kardashian family member/supermodel to be the heroine of this impractical scenario made the whole advertisement ridiculus. It was insensitive to make light of a serious topic. It takes more than a supermodel, smile and a pepsi to bring the change of a nation in pain from issues that cut very deep.
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