For legacy brands, staying relevant is of the utmost importance. But while it’s one thing to want to tap into the culture at large, it’s another thing entirely when that impulse becomes an effort to capitalize upon something that really, really, shouldn’t be used to sell soda.
If you haven’t seen it by now, Pepsi yesterday dropped its latest ad, the first with new company spokesperson Kendall Jenner. About 24 hours later, it pulled it
In the commercial, Jenner discards a blond wig and leaves a photoshoot to join a protest happening outside. She walks with protesters holding signs with peace signs and hearts that say things such as “join the conversation.”
In the background, Bob Marley's grandson Skip sings, “We are the movement, this generation,” as Jenner hands a police officer a can of Pepsi and returns to a crowd of cheering fellow protesters as “live bolder, live louder, live for now” and the Pepsi logo flash on screen.
Almost instantly, social media was flooded with criticism, calling the ad disrespectful and tone deaf, a tasteless co-opting of a protest movement born out of pain, anger and injustice. Not helping matters was the fact that the ad was released on the 49th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.
Imagine putting your life on the line like this to fight for justice only to have it parodied by a soda company and a Kardashian pic.twitter.com/g55s09owVf— jamilah (@JamilahLemieux) April 4, 2017
J. Edgar Hoover takes aim from the grassy knoll. The motorcade approaches. He fires. JFK raises a #Pepsi to his lips, blocks the bullet.— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) April 5, 2017
The cop's face at the end. ? "You know, this thin white woman makes a good point. Pepsi MIGHT BE better than state violence!" pic.twitter.com/kaPiAvmyQQ— Olivia A. Cole (@RantingOwl) April 4, 2017
"No Justice, No Pepsi" pic.twitter.com/VK6QtksgRg— Ziwe (@ziwe) April 5, 2017
the worst thing about that Pepsi ad, beyond the blatant disrespect and disregard, is the amount of people who greenlit that advertisement.— nasri (@nasrissist) April 4, 2017
The company initially put out a statement defending the ad: “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."
But shortly after the ad was removed, Pepsi issued an apology. "Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position."
That may be the case, but the message Pepsi tried to put out into the world and what viewers saw was very different. It’s a lesson to all brands that you can’t make your decisions in a vacuum. Any business, especially global brands such as Pepsi, should always seek outside opinions before releasing any major marketing pushes.