[Update: Pepsi has pulled the ad and issued an apology.]
Since we've seen enough ads solely consisting of a group of hot friends enjoying a fresh drink covered in high-res water droplets, at the beach or in the greenest garden ever to not even notice them anymore, it's understandable that it's become quite tough for advertisers to come up with new and relevant ideas every year — especially when they're trying to sell a drink that itself has barely changed.
With their new global spot released today, the marketing team over at Pepsi went the classic route of hiring a famous face to carry the brand, probably uber hyped that they managed to tap the ultimate icon of fresh and hip youngsters obsessed with social media: Kendall Jenner, part-time model and full-time Kardashian, whose average number of likes on her Instagram posts is every brand's wet dream.
Unfortunately for Pepsi, the result feels like it's encouraging you to cringe more than it is prompting you to buy the fizzy drink, and the spot has managed to make the brand trend on Twitter for all the wrong reasons.
Politics Should Not Be Used To Sell Soda
The premise of the ad is pretty simple: A band of handsome people are protesting in the street (protesting what? Who knows) when supermodel Kendall sees the action, spends a whole minute pondering whether she should join, and one flirty wink from a cool musician and an outfit/makeup/hair change later, she decides to join the party. And when the crowd is stopped by a barricade of policemen, she saves the day by handing one of them a can of Pepsi.
Let's start with the fact that this ad is absolutely awful story-wise: First our heroine leaves in the middle of work when she's got a whole team depending on her presence — that's really what "seizing the moment" is all about, isn't it? — but she also makes sure to change her whole outfit and makeup because it's cool to jump in on the action, but like, in slow-motion. Then the video isn't really sure if it wants to show us a protest, people having lunch, a flash mob or all of these at the same time, and there's nothing that feels more out-of-place than a delicately arranged display of drinks in an ad about spontaneity.
But the really infuriating part comes from Pepsi's blatant exploitation of what it means to protest, and blind ignorance of the danger real-life protesters have actually faced to defend their ideals. The most obvious and cringey reference is to this iconic picture of the Black Lives Matter movement, when a young girl dared to face the police before getting arrested.
Taking a young white woman of the same age and showing her handing a can of soda to a policeman without the slightest hint of a risk is not only tone-deaf, it's offensive.
Of Course, Pepsi Will Insist It Has Good Intentions
The backlash to the ad was so swift that the company hurried to issue an explanation — yet instead of trying to counter the blow, they continues to insist the ad was made with all the good intentions in the world. In a statement issued to Adweek, they tried to sell the "message of harmony" of the video:
This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that's an important message to convey.
The press release also qualifies the ad as "a short film about the moments when we decide to let go," which really makes me wonder if the brains behind the campaign think of protests as a literal walk in the park. Incidentally, the biggest indication that the whole Live For Now/Jump In/Seize The Moment message of the ad is just a big diluted soup of trendy terms lies in Jenner's statement:
I am thrilled to join the legendary roster of icons who have represented their generations and worked with Pepsi. To me, Pepsi is more than just a beverage — it registers as a pop culture icon and a lifestyle that shares a voice with the generation of today. The spirit of Pepsi — living in the 'now' moment — is one that I believe in. I make a conscious effort in my everyday life and travels to enjoy every experience of today.
Essentially assimilating a demonstration for peace to a fun part of everyday life is just one of the consequences of brands desperately and blindly reaching for significance, resulting in campaigns that feel more like the product of a random motivational quote generator than a movement with an intention behind it. No matter how much it wants to be relevant, Pepsi is still a brand of soda — and the notion that it will solve any actual issues might be cute in a fairytale, but it's laughably sad now.
There are many ways to foster a "spirit of harmony" or encourage people to "live in the now," but dipping just the tip of the toe into today's complex and crucial pool of political issues is definitely not one.
What did you think of Kendall Jenner's Pepsi ad?