Kendall Jenner and Pepsi Miss the Mark, Again

Pepsi as a commercial brand has had some serious successes in the advertising department. 2004’s Pepsi ad brought us Pink, Beyonce, and Britney Spears as female gladiators banding together to fight against a patriarchal force. Cindy Crawford was at the height of her fame when her Pepsi commercial aired during the 1992 Super Bowl XXVI, creating a now iconic American cultural memory. Pepsi's latest spokeswoman, Kendall Jenner, has repeatedly voiced her respect for Crawford and her contributions to the modeling world, initially considering her partnership with Pepsi to be "a dream come true," since she was following Crawford's footsteps. While Pepsi's previous ads weren’t necessarily perfect (the voyeurism in Crawford’s is a little uncomfortable), their latest commercial is problematic in numerous ways, and received a tremendous amount of backlash, for good reason. 

Pepsi asks its consumers to “join the conversation,” which is itself a positive idea, but their idea of joining the conversation is through a can of soda at the hands of a white socialite. The political moment we are currently in has utilized protests as a way for the public to have a voice. But Pepsi trivialized the real efforts of these protests and protestors, and the changes they are working toward. The ad seems to almost mock the efforts of actual protests, making light and over simplifying the current issues of American society. Pepsi has repeatedly tried to target young consumers, but this was clearly a failed attempt. Commercializing on the social justice movement is not a good marketing strategy, Pepsi.  

Jenner joins the protest after skipping out on a modelling shoot nearby. She joins the group, happy and cheery, does she even know what they're protesting? Her biggest contribution to the event occurs when she hands the policeman a can of Pepsi, apparently as a peace offering.

The policeman sips the Pepsi, and all seems right in the world, as the protestors cheer. The idea that handing a police officer a can of soda would generate such a positive reaction like that from individuals fighting for social justice, or contribute to the goals of the protest, is simply ludicrous.

The tensions between police and protestors were trivialized by Pepsi. We are living in a nation in which 963 people were shot and killed by police last year alone. Of course, circumstances were different for each one of these people, but it is impossible to ignore deaths such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott or Freddie Gray.

Additionally, the image of Jenner and the police officers mirrored that of an actual protest and an actual activist. Ieisha L. Evans was arrested during a Baton Rouge protest against police brutality, in response to the police shooting of Alton Sterling. The photograph of Evans shows her standing peacefully, in a sundress, facing policemen in riot gear, visual opposite. To monopolize on a woman who has peacefully fought for equality and actually been arrested for her efforts is offensive. If only she had a can of Pepsi to give to these officers.

The daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., the renowned civil rights leader of the 1960's, Bernice King even commented on the commercial on her Twitter.

Clearly, "the power of Pepsi" in face of real, important social issues is non-existent. 

Pepsi has since pulled their commercial, realizing they "missed the mark" with their attempted message of "unity."

Now, let's talk about Kendall Jenner herself. Yes, Pepsi did put her in this position, but the irony that Jenner was a spokesperson in a culturally insensitive advertisement has not been lost on its viewers. How many times have the Kardashian/Jenners missed the mark? A lot. The Kardashian/Jenner family have been called out for their cultural insensitivity and appropriation numerous times, from hairstyles, to use of Native American headdresses as costumes, to making jokes about the KKK, to photoshopping their skin to appear a different race, and so on. Kendall herself recently faced backlash as one of the models who walked in Marc Jacobs New York Fashion Week runway show featuring dreadlocks, an event which occurred a mere seven months ago. 

If Jenner was not as well-known or well-versed as she is now, I could better understand her compliance in this ad. Yet, Jenner’s fame in American culture is massive, both her face and name nationally known. Yes, I’m sure she has contracts constricting her, but she also possesses an incredibly large platform and amount of influence.

It may seem silly to focus so heavily on a two minute, forty second commercial, yet Pepsi’s blunder reflects much broader issues in our culture, and discussions that need to be had if actual unity (not caused by cans of soda) can actually occur in the United States.

Sources: 1, 2

Images/GIFs: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78