Jenner’s Pepsi Commercial: A Social Media, Social Movement Disaster

Pepsi, according to their mission statement, is committed to “empowering people around the world” to improve society. Their latest ad, which was released on April 4 and pulled just a day later, showcased the Kardashian clan’s Kendall Jenner as the savior of protesters and police alike.

The commercial’s problems begin when Jenner is beckoned by a protester to join the group while she’s stepping out of a building. Once Jenner is waved over, she hands her high-fashion blonde wig to a black woman waiting on the sidelines, wipes off her dark lipstick and leads the protest to meet a line of police officers. She hands an officer a Pepsi—and suddenly, all animosity between the community and law enforcement seems to melt away as a Muslim women documents the interaction on video.

#Blacktwitter, a section of Twitter that displays and shares information of interest to the black community, quickly reacted to the controversial messages in the video.

The New York Times reported that the commercial was “trivializing” protest movements and “appropriating” very serious moments—like Leshia Evans, a woman who peacefully confronted the police during a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

To add insult to injury, black women have consistently been at the forefront of the protest movement against police brutality – yet a caucasian woman was the face of the Pepsi commercial.

Even from an advertising standpoint, the project was a disaster. BuzzFeed consulted a slew of advertising professionals who all agreed that Pepsi did a horrible job.

“There’s so much pressure on brands and companies to try to be relevant,” Allen Adamson, founder of BrandSimple Consulting, told BuzzFeed. “They missed the mark on connecting to the hearts of people protesting and dramatically underestimated the sensitivity of the problem with protesters and BLM with soda pop. In a market where social media is looking, they got the attention they wanted for the wrong reasons.”

The short video was part of Pepsi’s “Live for Now” campaign that highlights the moments where people choose to act instead of sitting on the sidelines.

“The spirit of Pepsi- living in the ‘now’ moment- is one that I believe in. I make a conscious effort in my everyday life and travels to enjoy every experience of today,” Jenner announced in a statement for Pepsi upon the commercials debut.

Even though the commercial itself relies heavily on protest culture and Black Lives Matter imagery, Jenner herself has yet to insert herself meaningfully into the Black Lives Matter movement.

“If you want to capitalize on messages of unity, peace and understanding, firstly prove that you care,” Jeetendr Shedev, celebrity branding authority who frequently analyzes the Kardashian family, tweeted.  

Upon revocation of the advertisement, Pepsi apologized for dragging Jenner into this public relations catastrophe.

But many were quick to point out that Jenner consented to be part of the project and agreed to be compensated for her participation – prompting questions about her responsibility as a public figure, and her political decisions.

In a recent Saturday Night Live sketch portraying a fictional account of how the commercial came to be, they pose Jenner as a complicit figure.

“Um, I stop the police from shooting black people by giving them a Pepsi,” Cecily Strong’s version of Jenner said. “I know! It’s cute, right?”

Shedev outlined Jenner’s detriment to the Pepsi ad’s purpose in an interview with Fortune Magazine: “The problem is you can’t just throw a celebrity into an ad and hope that it moves product. You have to resonate on deeper, more meaningful levels. […] Brands need to show a courage of conviction. It’s time for Pepsi to take bigger risks instead of trying to associate themselves with these safe names and big names.”

For watchdogs on social media, the Pepsi ad completely missed the mark politically and socially —and subsequent backlash that spread over the internet put a highly produced commercial out of commission.

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