How and Why Pepsi Joined the Wrong Conversation (Part I)

Up until the night President Donald Trump fired 59 missiles at an airbase in Syria (almost initiating World War III) the entire world would not stop talking about Pepsi’s controversial commercial starring Kendall Jenner. I’ve seen both the 60-second and full-length versions of the commercial many times as well as the countless parodies and late night talk show monologues made in response to it. Twitter had a field day with this commercial as thousands of people are ridiculing Kendall Jenner and even more plan to boycott the Pepsi Company entirely.

The commercial features a protest comprised of attractive people in their 20’s from various racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds. The protest gains momentum as it catches the attention of model and television personality Kendall Jenner. Jenner is in the middle of a modeling session when she decides to remove the blonde wig she is using, wipes off her lipstick and joins the demonstration. Jenner then hands a can of Pepsi to one of the police officers maintaining a riot-control line at the protest. The officer takes a sip of the Pepsi, the demonstrators cheer in response and all is well. Then the Pepsi logo appears along with their slogan, “Live for now.”

What infuriates me most about this commercial (as well as millions of other people around the world) is that Pepsi’s advertising team committed the following crimes:

  1. The commercial paints a heavily romanticized portrait of modern American protests. One of the main issues with the commercial is that we don’t know what caused the demonstration and we don’t know the goal of this protest. The demonstrators in the commercial wave signs with vague slogans like “Love” or “Join the Conversation” but they make no references to actual movements going on in the world right now such as “Black Lives Matter”, LGBT rights, or the conflict in Syria. In addition, the protest in the commercial is a harmonious march in a scenic downtown area that is essentially one giant party. As someone who has participated in several recent protests involving the rights of women, Hispanic immigrants and Muslims I can tell you that no protest ever goes that well. I’ve been in marches in cities as seemingly liberal and friendly as Berkeley or San Francisco and almost always there are fist fights, people spraying each other with pepper spray and all kinds of gritty altercations. Pepsi would have its commercial viewers believe that protests can be events as fun and lighthearted as parties but that’s not the case in the world we live in today.
  2. The commercial made a reference to 19th century slavery. Towards the end of the commercial, Kendall Jenner makes the decision to leave her photo shoot to join in on the demonstration. Aside from the obvious outfit change and removing her lipstick, she takes her wig off and shoves it aside to her assistant, a black woman. While I doubt it was Pepsi’s intention, they essentially showed a young, attractive white woman making an older black woman carry her wig the same way a golfer makes his caddie carry his clubs. Some people have made the argument that Kendall Jenner making a black woman carry her blonde wig isn’t offensive because Kendall Jenner isn’t entirely white, per se. Let me make this clear, Kendall Jenner is white. Robert Kardashian (who fathered Kendall Jenner’s half-siblings Kim, Khloe, Kourtney and Rob) was Armenian-American. However Kendall Jenner’s father Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner is of Scots-Irish descent and her mother Kris Houghton Jenner is of German/Welsh descent. But even is she wasn’t entirely white, the idea of someone light-complected making a black person carry their items as if they were in servitude reinforces some very racist and Eurocentric notions.

To see the completion of this list and some insightful closing remarks, please tune in next week….

Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad 2017
Pepsi’s commercial starring model and television personality Kendall Jenner centers on the topic of today’s protests…and fails miserably.