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Editorial: Pepsi ad trivializes, appropriates important social issues - The Pitt News

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Editorial: Pepsi ad trivializes, appropriates important social issues

Parodies+have+swarmed+social+media+in+light+of+Pepsi%E2%80%99s+commercial+that+tried+to+use+protest+to+sell+soda.+Stephen+Caruso+%7C+Assistant+Visual+Editor
Parodies have swarmed social media in light of Pepsi’s commercial that tried to use protest to sell soda. Stephen Caruso | Assistant Visual Editor

Parodies have swarmed social media in light of Pepsi’s commercial that tried to use protest to sell soda. Stephen Caruso | Assistant Visual Editor

Parodies have swarmed social media in light of Pepsi’s commercial that tried to use protest to sell soda. Stephen Caruso | Assistant Visual Editor

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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When Pepsi released a new advertisement earlier this week, it probably wasn’t hoping for it to go viral in quite the way that it did.

Pepsi’s ad, which starred model and member of the Kardashian family Kendall Jenner, appeared on YouTube Tuesday and almost immediately attracted massive amounts of criticism online for its tone-deaf treatment of a demonstration. Within a day, the company pulled the advertisement, acknowledging in a press release that it had “missed the mark.”

With a runtime of more than two minutes, the video shows what appears to be a group of protesters marching down a street before being joined by Jenner. As the crowd confronts a line of police, Jenner comes forward to offer a can of Pepsi to a police officer, who accepts it as the protesters rejoice.

Pepsi’s choice for the ad’s setting in what is transparently an allusion to a Black Lives Matter protest is unquestionably bizarre. While the company’s official explanation was that it was “trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding,” the video has an undeniable feeling of trying to commodify and cash in on a social movement. And the more you look at the video, the worse it comes across.

If it weren’t for the presence of police and picket signs — most of which either read “Join the conversation” or featured a peace sign — the main event of the video might seem to be a music festival rather than a protest. With characters laughing, smiling and dancing, the atmosphere the video gives off seems to suggest that its creators have never been to an actual demonstration. It certainly looks nothing like the number of protests that have taken place here in Oakland since last November’s elections.

The disconnect between the video’s portrayal of a rally and its real-life counterpart didn’t go unnoticed by Twitter users. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., tweeted an image of police accosting her father along with the words, “If only Daddy had known about the power of #Pepsi.”


Another user juxtaposed an image of Jenner — who is white — approaching the line of police officers unharassed with one of black BLM activist Ieshia Evans being rushed by police officers in riot gear at a demonstration in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last July.


Perhaps most emblematic of all the images in Pepsi’s commercial, however, was one of a peripheral character — a female photographer wearing a hijab. This character, whom a viewer could assume to be Muslim, appears to be looking for inspiration for her photography at the video’s beginning before being drawn into the protest. She’s shown admiring Jenner, smiling as she takes photographs of her approaching the police.

Beyond illustrating an almost textbook use of a white savior complex, this part of the video’s storyline almost perfectly encapsulates what the commercial does as a whole. That is, Jenner takes something originally intended to be about the issues of non-white Americans — the protest — and makes it about someone white — herself.

Pepsi, whether it intended to or not, took a social movement intended to be about the needs of minority Americans and made it about a white celebrity selling a product. It made the right choice by pulling the ad, and we can only hope that the company makes better decisions in the future.

It’s more than just an issue of suffering through a cringey video — it’s a matter of taking issues of life and death for some Americans seriously.

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Editorial: Pepsi ad trivializes, appropriates important social issues