by RYAN SHANKS//Staff Writer
Pepsi is getting a lot of heat for their latest television commercial.
It’s official title is “Live for Now Moments Anthem” and features reality star and alleged model Kendall Jenner. It tries to portray that we should stand together and “join the conversation.” In that way, the Pepsi ad was successful. It did indeed provoke conversation about Pepsi’s tone-deafness.
In the 2-minute-39-second “short film,” Jenner throws off the chains of the modeling industry by taking off her wig, then leaving a photo shoot to join a protest. After sharing some knowing nods and fist bumps with her fellow protestors, the “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” star manages to bring everyone together by handing a cop a Pepsi. The message is clear: All those Women’s Marches, Black Lives Matter protests, and demonstrations outside Trump Tower would be much more effervescent and effective if someone had just brought some soda.
The Internet, as you might suspect, disagreed. Within 48 hours, the video got nearly 1.6 million views on YouTube (five times as many down votes as up votes), and Twitter and Facebook lit up with people pointing out just how gauche the whole thing was. Activist DeRay McKesson called it “trash,” adding “If I had carried Pepsi, I guess I never would’ve gotten arrested. Who knew?”
People made memes (some even reaching back and evoking Pepper Spray Cop). Rightfully, many people pointed out that using protest imagery in order to sell soda, particularly images that evoked the photo of Ieshia Evans facing down police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last year, was pretty tasteless. It was one of the few times the internet ever agreed on anything.
And that, in and of itself, is noteworthy. For years, conversation online has brought out the best and worst in everyone. But this ad, with its effortlessly cool, politically-aware millennials in color-coordinated denim outfits, was the one thing everyone agreed to oppose. A Twitter search for “Pepsi” reveals that virtually no one is coming to the commercial’s defense. In fact, not even Pepsi is defending it anymore. Earlier today, the company pulled the ad. “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize,” Pepsi said in a statement. “We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.”
Soda companies sell harder to young consumers than to anyone else, and they’ve been pitching to that coveted demographic messages of global unity for years. The most well-known of these attempts is Coca-Cola’s peace-for-all 1971 “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” (The one Don Draper dreamed up in the series finale of “Mad Men”). But even before that, Pepsi was targeting youth culture with slogans such as “Pepsi Generation” and “For Those Who Think Young”—both of which launched in the ‘60s.
Soda companies have continued to aim for hip kids throughout the ensuing decades with celeb-packed ads featuring everyone from Michael Jackson to Drake to a truck-driving P. Diddy. Now Pepsi has tried to cross the streams, pairing a millennial mega-celebrity with what the company clearly thought was a fun spin on the ability of young people to change the world. Between 1971 and now, though, people got the tools to respond to the misguided mash up on a mass scale in 140 characters or less.
From Black Lives Matter to the Women’s Marches, politically active people are already affecting change around the world, and they’re not doing it with soda and reality stars. They are using the same tools that organized those movements to express how ill advised it was to use their work to sell carbonated beverages. The reaction to Pepsi’s ad, not the ad itself, brought people together. That’s refreshing.