Embarrassing Commercial by Pepsi Sparks Online Outrage

Using a model and reality TV star to try to draw in younger customers for a can of soda only makes this worse

A classic American soda company is facing major backlash from consumers online after its new advertisement featured a fake protest — and a can of Pepsi soda pop is seen as helping to build a “bridge” between cops and those protesting.

The ad was released Tuesday. It shows fashion model and reality star Kendall Jenner, 21 — a co-star on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” — at a photo shoot while a protest is breaking out in the streets around her.

(See the update at the bottom of this article.)

Jenner, a sibling of the Kardashians, then takes off her blonde wig, wipes away her lipstick — and joins the demonstrators, whom many viewers took to be representations of the real Black Lives Matter movement.

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“The commercial co-opts protests as something new and trendy,” Jaya Sexena wrote in Elle Magazine.

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“If I had carried Pepsi, I guess I never would have gotten arrested. Who knew?” said activist DeRay McKesson on Twitter, as a Reuters report noted. “Pepsi, this ad is trash.”

In the commercial, Jenner eventually hands a can of Pepsi to an angry-looking cop. The cop gulps some of it back — and a smile then forms on his face.

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Jenner and the protesters erupt in applause and cheers.

“Live bolder. Live louder. Live for now,” the text on the screen reads.

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“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,” Jenner told E! News, explaining her involvement. “The spirit of Pepsi — living in the ‘now’ moment — is one that I believe in.”

Social media users erupted on Twitter and elsewhere to convey their thoughts about the commercial. “Twitter was a fun place to wake up to this morning,” the British online newspaper The Independent noted. “People of color, feminists, LGBTQIA+ groups, activists — and pretty much anyone with a working barometer of cultural awareness — were expressing outrage at the latest Pepsi advert featuring Kendall Jenner.”

“Wow, Pepsi’s ‘Black Soda Matters’ campaign is off to a bad start,” tweeted Vann R. Newkirk II, a writer for The Atlantic and a contributing editor at Seven Scribes.

“I, for one, salute Kendall Jenner’s efforts to fight childhood obesity by making sure no one ever buys a Pepsi ever again,” tweeted Radley Balko, a journalist with The Washington Post.

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Pepsi jumped in to defend its commercial.

“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 company said in a statement.

The words didn’t squash the mix of outrage and mockery that’s been occurring online:

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“In an attempt to court a politically active younger demographic, Pepsi may have instead set them off,” Variety.com noted.

Update: Pepsi decided to pull its ad after a full day of complaints and online ridicule. “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize,” the company said in a Wednesday statement. “We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout.”

This article was updated at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7, 2017. 

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