It seems like everyone has a take on the Pepsi ad fiasco. And for good reason—it's a total mess. Even though the ad dropped a few weeks ago now, nothing has changed in the sense that this is still a huge topic of concern, especially in the world of marketing, for a few reasons. The disaster of this ad has opened up conversation about things much bigger than the ad itself. Because, as we stated, everyone has an opinion, we're going to jump on the bandwagon and give you ours.
Eater adeptly described the contents of the "short film" as follows:
"… A bunch of millennials have taken to the street for some protest or another. There’s a photographer who appears frustrated with her work! Kendall Jenner is modeling in a blonde wig!... The ad’s climactic moment comes when, after throwing off her blonde wig and wiping away her lipstick, Jenner quickly joins the march of protestors and moves to the front of the pack as the crowd nears a wall of hostile-looking policemen. Jenner breaks ranks, stepping ahead of the other marchers to hand one of the officers an ice-cold Pepsi. He smiles and accepts it. Everyone cheers. Crisis averted.”
To state the most obvious: it’s absolutely absurd. Of all the “short film” synopses out there of the ad, this one was our favorite for a few reasons. One: the sarcastic tone is incredibly on point (how could anyone ever take this ad even the least bit seriously?) And two: the use of the phrase “crisis averted.” Crisis and Kendall Jenner in the same thought is giggle inducing. This is, after all, the girl whose mother/Momager is Kris Jenner, and whose father is Bruce Jenner, the former Gold Medal Olympic athlete. Since stepping out into the forefront “on her own” (let’s take that phrase with a grain of salt, shall we? Her mother is worth 40 million dollars, after all, and more than likely had a plan in all of this business, no?) Kendall has become a model—pat on the back for her, yeah? But let’s face it: this is the absolute LAST person we would want making a political statement if it were on our behalf. She starred in a reality show that likely reached roughly .5% of the American population in terms of familiarity. For the rest of us, watching Kendall grow up in a multi million dollar home was just entertainment. So why did Pepsi mess up so badly? How were they possibly that out of touch with this world that they’d hire Kendall Jenner to star in an ad about social justice and unification? On the surface, it’s all giggle inducing, really. But what’s not laugh-worthy is the ad at large. Why? Because it suggests something totally out of whack in terms of what our country—and the world as a whole, in fact—is facing.
Besides the fact that this ad is a total marketing disaster (we'll get into that), it also serves to prove that a great deal of our country’s people are entirely uninformed when it comes to cultural appropriation and respect. The fact alone that Pepsi execs—people with college degrees, Masters, likely a few PhDs in there—chose Kendall Jenner, a reality TV bred of two millionaires—is mind boggling. Activists are saying that the entire "short film"—and yes, we will keep referring to it as that because those were the words used by Pepsi to describe the piece, despite the irony most every informed person can see lurking behind those two seemingly simple words—is precisely the opposite of a real-world protesting experience would be... including, but not limited to the fact that police brutality these days is nearly, and so disappointingly imminent in a protest setting. And as we see in this uninformed piece of pseudo-art, that is magically not the case.
And okay, yes, we understand that the ad is (trying) to make a point that Pepsi changes people! It makes us feel at ease, relaxed… unified. But it doesn’t. And through this ad, it’s done absolutely anything but that. It’s gotten us up in arms, and super, super pissed that a team of marketing professionals would come up with this, and then actually run it. Social media mavens and just generally annoyed, disappointed people alike have accused Pepsi of “appropriating imagery from serious protests to sell its product, while minimizing the danger protesters encounter and the frustration they feel.”
Shortly after the hubbub really climaxed, Pepsi released a statement saying that their in-house studio produced the ad. We are all but entirely unsure of how to respond to this. Except to say: of course it was going to come out eventually that Pepsi was entirely at fault for the idiotic treatment of a long standing issue that we as a species are struggling desperately, especially in the last few months and over the course of the last year, to overcome. A particularly strong social media response came in the form of a 57-character tweet from none other than Dr. MLK Jr.’s daughter, Bernice King.
King responded elsewhere online as well (she is an activist and, unsurprisingly, extraordinarily intelligent woman), asserting that the Pepsi ad reflects deep, deep issues around race and privilege in this country especially. And boy, is she right. That idea, could have a tome written about it in respect to this ad alone. But alas, we digress.
The Wall Street Journal's Jennifer Maloney also took to Twitter after the ad aired, but to a slightly different end. She uploaded a photo of Pepsi's apology statement, less than 24 hours after the campaign was pulled. The statement reads as follows: "Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position." To which we say, it's probably time every person on Pepsi's marketing team gets fired. And they may as well take back that apology to Kendall, because if she had any intellect or understanding of what’s going on in this world every single day, well, she would have refused to star—or have any part at all—in the ad to begin with.
Okay, now it’s your turn: what’s your take? Clearly, we are pretty blown away by all of this. The absurdity of it speaks to the larger problem our country faces—the overall out-of-touchness, for lack of a better phrase, some people are not only portraying, but encouraging. It's not easy to offend every cognizant human who saw this ad. But Pepsi succeeded.
Can-Do Ideas is a Digital Marketing agency specializing in Inbound Marketing and Inbound Sales. We are located in New York City and Connecticut.