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Why the Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad is a Huge Success

April 25, 2017

While everyone was catching up on “The Flash”, or “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, or “New Girl” on Tuesday, April 4th, 2017, Pepsi released a certain ad that elicited dozens of articles on media representation, some well-crafted tweets, and a hilarious Saturday Night Live skit. The commercial for the second-in-command soda company utilized the hot trends the teens love: protesting, techno music, and Kendall Jenner. The pop-lugging company combined these fads to sell more cola, but ended up with a huge backlash and withdrawal of the commercial soon after. Here’s where you can watch the ad so you know what’s going on.

Here’s a short play-by-play: In the midst of an A-Lister photo shoot, Jenner peers out at well-dressed millennials holding up various signs with such hard hitting, controversial slogans reading “Join the Conversation,” “Unity,” and “Peace.” Inspirational techno beats play underneath with the lyrics, “We are the chosen.” After an awe-inspiring head nod from a cello player (who somehow performs with a band in a drum circle in the middle of a protest), Jenner joins the conversation. A short fifteen seconds show a Muslim photographer being angry (what about, you may ask? We may never know), as the artsy shots fade back to the streets of Pepsi-drinking young people. The crowd of protesters reaches a line of policemen wearing short sleeve t-shirts and dad-style baseball caps, quite different from usual riot gear. Jenner grabs a Pepsi from a tailgate cooler, surpasses the crowd, and offers it to one of the policemen as the music becomes quiet, the photographer bends down, and the policeman accepts her Pepsi and takes a sip. The crowd erupts in cheers and fist bumps for Kendall (though the police do not move).

There are (obviously) many issues with this commercial. It specifically hurts those who have fought so hard for representation in the media. A white, affluent, young, and able-bodied celebrity such as Kendall Jenner approaching a policeman does not pose the same issue as a person of color may have while protesting. Pepsi, a billion dollar corporation that owns a large number of companies, including Doritos, Lays, Cheetos, Quaker Goods, and Starbucks beverages, has since been labeled tone-deaf. Movements to #BoycottPepsi have made their way into the media, as well as backlash towards Kendall Jenner herself.

Everyone is asking how an advertisement for such a popular brand, which probably went through many people, somehow made it to the media. It is suggested that Pepsi started with some sort of internal research report that linked activism to popularity, and millennials to the target market. The social justice themed commercials from the 2017 Super Bowl may have also provoked Pepsi and like companies to take part in social-issue-based advertisements. It is also quite possible that this is exactly what Pepsi wanted: people talking about their brand. Even looking at commercials that take social stances many agree with, like the 84 Lumber Commercial, are still advertisements to sell products and make money. At the end of the day, the job of companies is to make money, not become activists.

Isn’t it their social responsibility, however, to use their wide platform for social good? Arguably, yes. This ad was created to make money off of a market, not to promote activism. Pepsi stated that they wanted to convey unity over a shared refreshment. It is not wrong to critique the advertisement for its out-of-touch analogy or whitewashed activism; however, it is quite possibly wrong to rely on a thirst-quenching mega-corporation to convey the wants of all citizens.

Distress and protest is a reaction not uncommon to Americans following the November election. Such social distress could be exactly what Pepsi desired in order to raise the amount of articles written about the company. In this advertisement, Pepsi is offering a carefree world for young people where social action can be enacted with a cold soda, a far-off reality many distraught Americans only dream of. People don’t buy Pepsi to feel socially aware; they do it to drink a cola, or do a mentos experiment without spending the extra money for coke.

Truthfully, this ad satisfies many parties. It gives young people something to talk about and use as yet another example to why representation matters. It gives tone-deaf Americans something to gloat about and praise. It gives attention to the Kardashian-Jenner clan just in time for Kylie’s new spinoff. It gives the media new content to write about and inform and anger their readers, as I’m doing for you now. After all of those people are satisfied, they all contribute to the attention given to Pepsi: the original intent of the advertisement in the first place. If this is the case, that Pepsi consciously made this commercial knowing it would bring eyes back to their company, and not for social good, then that may be too high of a price to pay for extra soft drink sales.

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