Is There Ever A Place For Brands In The Protest Conversation?

Editorial Director, Life
04.05.17 27 Comments

Yesterday, Pepsi launched a TV spot starring Kendall Jenner which most definitely met the number one rule of ad execs everywhere: Get noticed. But in the internet era, the idea that “all press is good press” is laughable — especially when a backlash leaves a brand on the wrong side of wokeness. On Twitter, the retribution was swift and every outlet in the country has since covered the firestorm (and the subsequent memes). This morning, Pepsi issued a second statement and the ad was pulled.

Interestingly, Kendall Jenner handing a cop a Pepsi and thereby brokering a solution to complex problems has the exact same theme as the most famous soft drink campaign ever, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.” But Coca-Cola had three things going for it with that spot: 1) It first ran in 1971, when brands cheering on diversity was fresh and seemed like part of the solution; 2) it was vague enough to not be shredded for co-opting imagery of the era; and 3) it represented peace, but didn’t depict the implied conflict.

The Pepsi ad, on the other hand borrowed the visual cues and, more importantly, the frustration of a movement that has defined this decade: Black Lives Matter. In the clip, a marching crowd — full of that electric “this is our moment” energy — inspires a model (surrounded by artifice), a musician (practicing on a rooftop for no audience), and a photographer (who is almost confusingly enraged by her tear sheets) to take to the streets. Then, when Kendall rips off her wig and shares a Pepsi with a police officer, the crowd erupts in joyous applause.

This is their moment all right, and one beautiful person just showed an entire generation how to create change with help from a cold soda. It’s almost too easy to mock, but it does beg a bigger question: In an age when brands neatly notch into every part of our lives, is there a place for them in the protest conversation?

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