I finally took the time to have a look at the latest Pepsi ad that has “united the Internet”. There are so many things wrong with the ad, but the overwhelming hateful responses are focusing on the wrong aspects of the almost three minute commercial. Obviously, a can of Pepsi is not a mediator. It’s been said, now can we all get over that? It was a poorly considered attempt by a corporation to shove their product down our throats using a metaphor for extending an olive branch to the opposition in a time of conflict, or something. The problem with this ad isn’t that Pepsi is marketing their product, it’s what Pepsi is choosing to frame their product with.
The ad opens to the scene of a protest. What is being protested is a mystery, the best guess we can make is for the resolution of violence based on the myriad of peace symbol and heart protest signs so cleverly painted in the colours of the Pepsi brand. So far the setting is a little ambiguous, but I’ll give it a pass because it takes some major cajones for a corporation to condone protest of institutionalized violence in the current political climate. There is decent representation of non-white skin tones which garners points, even if they are all unrealistically manicured. The soundtrack, a gorgeous blend of trip-hop, reggae, and rock, is an anthem for the fight against systemic oppression by Skip Marley (yes, that Marley). So far, I am generally on board.
For me, shit turns sideways when it becomes clear that the people marching are doing so because it’s fun. Protestors brandish bright, perfect smiles as they march against a nebulous cause. Some guy starts playing guitar (anyway, here’s Wonderwall, because this is easier than standing by my convictions). A dance party breaks out for no apparent reason. Kendall Jenner decides to join in on the festivities, presumably because being eye candy of international fame isn’t as much of a riot as, well, a riot. The streets are basically flooded by a strange, Pepsi-fueled frat party. I’m not an expert on the subject, but the scores of videos of police brutality is sufficient evidence to kick Pepsi’s romanticized depiction of protest conditions square in the taint. Protest, even when it is peaceful, is rarely met with such patient indifference as what is shown in this commercial.
The advertisement wraps up with Jenner, having literally just walked onto the scene without having any knowledge of what is going aside from the fact that it interrupted her photo shoot, yet now the poster girl for the march, offering a can of Pepsi to a member of the police blockade, apparently signaling the cessation of dissent. Yes, this is idiotic; but, it’s a small part of what we, the “united Internet” should be outraged over. Kendall Jenner’s role as the beautiful white woman that becomes the saving grace of a hugely ethnically diverse social movement by offering a gift to the power silencing said movement is a problem for obvious reasons, but not as momentous an issue as the trivialization of movements like Occupy, Black Lives Matter, March for Women, and March for Science, to name just a few causes.
I have a tab in my browser open to Twitter search query “pepsi” and since I started writing, there have been over 500 new tweets about the marketing debacle, all mocking the idea that either Jenner or a can of soda is the key to conflict resolution. No civil unrest over the misrepresentation of the state of freedom to protest safely and uncensored. No comments about the slacktivism displayed when a celebrity steps in to champion a cause they know nothing about. No polemics about how disingenuous it is to suggest that an officer’s response to peaceful protest isn’t going to be giving a face full of pepper spray. I’m disappointed in Pepsi for producing such a dumpster fire of an advertisement, but I’m downright angry at the tunnel-vision responses by the public. At least Pepsi apologized for their mistake, admitting that the attempted message of unity missed the mark. Twitter, though? All it’s accomplished is a collection of snarky one-liners and memes about the corporate giant, when it could have started a dialogue about public freedoms and social equality. The only good thing that has come of all this misdirected indignation is that it captured my attention long enough to introduce me to the music of Skip Marley, whom otherwise I might not have been exposed to.