Why Pepsi got it wrong

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If you have been on social media recently, you likely saw Pepsi’s newest ad starring Kendall Jenner. If not, here is a quick recap: there is a sizeable protest of young people holding signs that say things such as “Join the Conversation” and “PEACE.” Two young adults, one a cellist and the other a photographer, are visibly frustrated with their creative ventures. Both join the Pepsi sipping protestors who are marching and dancing down the street. Meanwhile, Jenner is posing for a photoshoot right next to the protest.

She is so inspired by the crowd that she pulls off her blonde wig and smudges her lipstick. Was anyone else wondering if it was from a Kylie Lip Kit? Anyway, Jenner joins the protest and picks up a Pepsi. She marches to the front of the crowd and approaches the police barrier. Jenner hands the Pepsi to one of the officers; the protesters erupt into cheers and the officer smiles.

Now after reading this or viewing the ad, you likely spotted some of the troubling things that both I and basically the entire internet saw. These include how Pepsi got protesting all wrong and the suspicious motives behind the making of the ad.

To put it simply, Pepsi does not get protesting. I have only been to a few political events and one protest, but I still feel confident in saying that Pepsi got it wrong. Protesting is not as fun as the ad depicts; it almost seemed more like a street fair with posing protestors and people chatting at tables literally next to the protests. The signs were extremely vague; Pepsi likely did not want to get political in its commercial with actual protest signs, which is ironic because Pepsi is very political. OpenSecrets.org reports that the PepsiCo INC PAC gave federal political candidates a total of roughly $185,000 in 2016. Even though Pepsi is political, its commercial fell flat on what the protest was even for!

Was the ad simply an attempt to jump onboard the wave of mass protests following the Women’s March or was it intentionally problematic viral marketing?

The absolute worst protest misunderstanding comes from the final moment of the commercial: the Pepsi handoff. Pepsi chose an extremely affluent, white supermodel to give a police officer a Pepsi. Police have a very long history of restricting and inciting violence during protests, so why did the writers of the commercial believe Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi was a good, logical move? If ending police violence and resistance to protest was that easy, wouldn’t it have already happened? Bernice King, daughter of MLK and Coretta Scott King, tweeted “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” Clearly, the content of the ad was a big misstep and Pepsi has since pulled the ad.

The bigger question I have is why did Pepsi make this ad in the first place? It was not an overt political statement, such as Oreo’s Pride cookies or Apple, Google, and Microsoft releasing opposition statements to Trump’s travel ban. Even without the overt political nature, it did have political implications. Was the ad simply an attempt to jump onboard the wave of mass protests following the Women’s March or was it intentionally problematic viral marketing? If it was viral marketing, I would say it worked; everyone is talking about Pepsi instead of Coke. Maybe Pepsi just wanted to “join the conversation” about protesting. Companies are always looking for ways to be more relevant with their marketing strategies. Maybe the writers of the commercial had what they believed to be good intentions, but the execution was so flawed that it overshadowed any intent.

I have actually never drank soda before, so I clearly was not the demographic for this ad. But if you like soda, did this ad motivate you to go pick up a Pepsi?

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