Last week, social media and late night television blew up over a Pepsi TV commercial starring one of the youngest “Kardashians.” In it, a large group of young protestors are facing off against police and Kendall Jenner steps forward to offer one officer a Pepsi, thereby breaking the tension in the stand-off.
Immediately, the Twittersphere exploded, condemning the ad for minimizing the “Black Lives Matter” protests and totally “missing the point” of the movement. Even the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. taunted the advertisement, suggesting that perhaps her daddy should have tried “the power of Pepsi” when confronted by the police.
Comedians commented this was the prettiest and cleanest protest in history. Stephen Colbert called it “Attractive Lives Matter.” And Pepsi immediately pulled the commercial amid a flurry of mea culpas for their insensitivity.
Seriously, Pepsi hasn’t seen this much negative publicity since Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire in 1984. But was it really such a big deal? Did Pepsi really “miss the point”?
As a commercial, the point was to sell soda pop by associating a sugary carbonated beverage that has no nutritive value with a media star who has no social value in a timely and positive context. So let’s take a breath for a moment and have a Pepsi, shall we?
This wasn’t real life. The protestors’ signs read “Join the Conversation” – the most non-confrontational and non-political battle cry ever made at a rally. There was no actual association with the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Dare I suggest that there have been protests for other reasons in American history?
Some claimed the image of Jenner, a model, walking up to the police was obviously a reference to the photo of Ieshia Evans standing alone on the road at a Louisiana protest in 2016, facing down the police who arrested her. However, Ieshia wasn’t a made-up model. She’s a thirty-something nurse and mother. And there wasn’t a can of pop in site.
The only similarity between the women is that Evans and Jenner are both female.
This ad was a fantasyland where a cola can be the key to brokering peace, not a statement on social justice. Nobody got this upset when buying “the world a Coke [to] keep it company” was suggested as a route to global harmony in 1971. And that generation was about as anti-establishment as it gets.
But perhaps the Tweets were right. Advertising companies should stop trying to make social statements with soda pop. Or any other product for that matter.
Stop aligning yourself with the social good to sell your wares. Your goal is to increase sales, not improve society. And viewers know it.
Yes, emotional advertising works. Oatmeal makes me think of warm, homey memories. (Even though my mom never it.) Hallmark makes me cry every time. But Pepsi-Cola isn’t going to change the world. Unless we let ourselves go to war over a commercial that we could easily just turn off.