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Pepsi Misses the Mark

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Ithaca chapter.

Earlier this week, Pepsi debuted a new advertisement for its beverage featuring celebrity spokesperson Kendall Jenner. The overall story is that Jenner is in the middle of a photoshoot when she notices that there are protesters gathered outside in the street and she decides to join them. There is a line of police officers along the perimeter who are standing guard when Jenner effortlessly walks up to one of them and hands him a can of Pepsi as a gesture of peace. While the ad was intended to be topical yet fun, it has been met with widespread backlash and has been accused of being tone-deaf.

One thing people are upset about is the fact that Pepsi is using the increasing prevalence of public protests as a way to market their product and make money. The company is essentially capitalizing on what is the result of widespread unrest due to fear of a discriminatory and demonstrably incompetent government administration.

Critics of the ad also agree that it glamorizes and trivializes protests. The protest in the video shows people holding up signs as they dance, making music, and laughing together, having an all-around good time. Pepsi portrays protests as parties in the street where people can socialize together. In reality, people do not go to the Women’s March or a Black Lives Matter protest to have fun. They do so to show dissent and bring attention to important issues that have a significant impact on people’s lives. Most of the time, protests are anything but fun and they can even be dangerous. Even when they are peaceful, protesters can be met with force or violence by law enforcement.

The final reason this ad is so controversial is that it suggests that if protesters were nicer to cops and shared their Pepsi, everyone would get along. As soon as Kendall Jenner hands over a can of Pepsi to a police officer (who’s noticeably lacking the riot gear we’ve become accustomed to seeing at protests), the tension is broken and everyone begins hugging one another and cheering. Contrary to what Pepsi seems to believe, the problem is not that people are not kind enough. The problem is an overmilitarized law enforcement that has thinly veiled racial biases. No amount of soda can cancel out centuries of police brutality that is disproportionately directed towards people of color.

Since its reception was so overwhelmingly negative, Pepsi promptly pulled the ad, but not before doing some irreversible damage to their brand. Martin Luther King Jr.’s own daughter, Bernice, reacted to the ad with a single tweet that summed up why Pepsi missed the mark:

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Joanna is a senior Applied Psychology major at Ithaca College from Rochester, NY.