Pepsi quite possibly created the ultimate ad no-no this week in creating the ultimate ad no-no that makes us all think we are advertising executives. In a little over 2 minutes, Pepsi advertised what we presumed to be a new diet Pepsi, Pepsi Max, but some things beside the soda were selling much to the public’s dismay. The imagery proved costly, as people not only watched, but backlashed.
Editor’s Note: The first thing I learned about advertising is that a mere image takes the place of words and explanations, so ads are inevitably prompted to do some pretty dramatic things. A company, such as Pepsi, has been doing this for years, therefore, is expected to do it. This means that Pepsi could release an unpredictable video of something in order to sell their soda. This also means that the audience whom Pepsi is selling to will have much to say about it.
The ad featured some of the most sincere items of commercials: people engaging in some activity and a celebrity face, Kendall Jenner. Watching Kendall Jenner walk down a street seems like an obviously good idea because she was given a reality tv show where we watch her do just that. Not to mention, her model career that keeps us watching her on her heels. This time around, she brought some friends with her – or, excuse me – protesters. They were all smiling and laughing, which makes you think for a split second that they were a group of friends just hanging out and not protesters, but they were indeed protesters. There were protest signs that gave it away, and as if that is not enough, along came the suspense of what becomes of a group of people when they are met with a police force.
Signs and cops reflected the appearance of a protest and made the group look less like a lollygag on a day out, holding up designs of the symbol of peace for art display. There was even music with lyrics that could not have been more appropriate for a protest ( “We are the Lions” ). It could have fooled me as a real protest until the lead protester, none other than Kendall Jenner, was seen giving one of the cops, who was awaiting the growing crowd on the opposite side of the street, a can of Pepsi. This was the moment when the strut, the smile, the time of joining the serious matter of protesting, and even the music, stopped. It just stopped and was downplayed.
Since when has a group of protesters been face-to-face with a police force and they shared a Pepsi together on the scene? The scene here is lacking a simple reality to even suggest such a sentiment. I can’t think of a different scene either, where sharing a Pepsi would have fit in with a protest, but let’s say hypothetically, Pepsi tried a thing where cops are nice guys who hand out soda to protesters. The scene then, would have at least given the protest a story. The story would have been turned in the right direction. It would have been turned inward, with the cop facing the protester, knowing that the protesters were demanding something and that he needed to give it away, which makes a bold statement.
Of course, the backlash which ultimately forced Pepsi to pull the ad pointed out things prior to the confrontation between the protesters and the cop that were problematic. The inclusion of a protest in the first place was at the center of many complaints. The problem with including a protest is that we know protest has never been included in anything, but it has instead always been the inclusion of something. In the first place, protest is a song and a famous person and a sign all by itself. Protest is in the first place, and cannot be second place to a soda commercial or an occupation or a cop at the end of the street.
Protest, in its darkest moments of coming face-to-face with a police force, needs the light of justice, not a shiny can of Pepsi. Protest for justice cannot take the form of a can of soda or be exchanged for it. During a protest, when a protester is face-to-face with an armed man in uniform, sharing a cold Pepsi, let alone with him, means that all of the hard walking and hard screaming was all for grabbing a can of soda. A can of soda, hard walking and hard screaming looks like a scene for a large group of people, but it looks like the scene of a sporting event, not a protest.
Editor’s Note: The second thing I learned about advertising is that it is a realm for creativity. Furthermore, it is a realm for the kind of creativity which imitates life. Advertising lies in the palm of television, the realm for reenactment and representation. Therefore, it does not so much shock me that Pepsi decided to portray a protest as it does their actual portrayal.
Also, what was the protest about, anyway? Oh yeah, just a filler between two women sharing lunch with their bottled Pepsi in hand; just a filler between a painter and a violinist; just a filler between Kendall Jenner’s photoshoot. At some point, the two women, the two artists, and Kendall all pause their good ol’ time and that’s how they join in the protest, and that’s also inevitably how the protest turned out to be just a crowd onlooking a famous model handing a can of Pepsi to a cop when only Kendall Jenner is seen rushing through the crowd up to the cop.
The protest goes away when the cop drinks the Pepsi. He doesn’t mistake the soda can for a gun and reject her from coming closer, or anything else you would expect cops to do when confronted with a group of protesters. He drinks it, then smiles at his fellow policemen.
Pepsi released a statement following the real-life protest against the ad, which stated that they were trying to promote peace and unity. Perhaps, Pepsi could mistake an ad as a promotion of peace and unity featuring a protest, except there’s no way a promotion of peace and unity featuring a protest could be mistaken for a soda ad.
Pepsi forgot to picture the protest and the protest reminded Pepsi of what protest looks like:
Protest 1: My President is talking about building a wall, Pepsi. I am a citizen preparing to have my citizenship taken away.
Protest 2: My black son has just been murdered by police brutality, Pepsi. I am a black woman grieving.
Protest 3: After a long day of protesting…