Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Ad Controversy: The Rundown

If you’ve been living under a rock (or, been spending too much time studying the library) for the last few days, you might’ve missed the newest controversy regarding Kendall Jenner’s new Pepsi ad. For those who haven’t seen it, here's the link. The ad features Kendall taking part in a photoshoot that’s conveniently taking place on the street where groups of people, particularly millennials, are protesting. After a few nods from the protestors, Kendall rips off her wig and smears her lipstick and joins the march. She fist-bumps people as she marches through the crowd, moving toward the police officers monitoring the protest. Then, Kendall reaches into a cooler, pulls out a Pepsi and proceeds to hand it over to one of the police officers. The officer takes the beverage, the crowd erupts into cheers, and the commercial ends. Long story short, Pepsi pulled the ad. Pepsi also released a statement, which is featured below. The statement released by Pepsi is sparking a new controversy on top of the controversial commercial. Many are arguing that Pepsi shouldn’t apologize to Kendall for putting her in this position, because she’s an adult who accepted the role for the ad, and was paid for it. While Pepsi mentions in the statement that they missed the mark with the commercial, they may have missed the mark again with their apology.

At its most basic level, it’s easy to see how this ad can spark controversy. Many people are criticizing Pepsi for trying to mimic protests like the Black Lives Matter movement, and the criticism is compounded when Pepsi’s way of resolving the divide between protestors and officers is a soft drink. Another thing many viewers picked up on was its startling similarity to a photo of Ieshia Evans taken at a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge in 2016 (seen below), which features Evans facing two officers in the middle of a protest. While Kendall Jenner approached the officers without issue, and presumably achieved some kind of peace via the Pepsi in her hand, Ieshia Evans was arrested.

The ad has experienced backlash from all different areas, including social media (Twitter went wild over this entire controversy) and late night shows. Stephen Colbert spoke about the controversy on his show, joking that the protest for “Attractive Lives Matter” caused “all of America’s hot extras to take the streets." The Daily Show, The Tonight Show, and Late Night with Seth Meyers also poked fun at the ad.

However, the most prominent criticism regarding Pepsi’s commercial came from the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., Bernice King. She wrote into the Huffington Post to contribute her opinion on the ad, and she tweeted out a photo of her father being held back by police during a protest with the caption, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” King argues in her article in the Huffington Post that she deemed the commercial problematic because “it contributed to the notion that there is a fairy-tale, light way to ease conflicts that have existed in this nation for hundreds of years” (if you’re interested, read the whole article on the Huffington Post’s website, it in is an excellent read IMO.) She goes on to commend Pepsi for pulling the ad, and she emphasizes the need to channel “positive discourse and actions to address the emotions the ad evoked and the issues that were central in the ad.” King’s critique of the problematic nature of the ad goes above and beyond, because it not only identifies the issues, but it also identifies the ways in which the outrage can be channeled in a positive way, which can create a more powerful force for change.

If Pepsi has done anything, it has united the Internet in protest against their ad. That being said, it might be wise to heed the advice Bernice King concludes with at the end of her Huffington Post article. “This moment is ripe for personal, organizational, and community transformation. Let’s not miss the opportunity. Together, we can.”