This Kendall Jenner Pepsi Advertisement was released on April 4th 2017.
Kendall Jenner, who is the world’s highest paid super-model and who is part of the famous Kardashian family, is featured as the protagonist for of the ad story.
Pepsi showcases people from diverse contexts coming together on the streets protesting for peace and unity. Kendall Jenner is first shown as the focus of a glamorous photoshoot, while there is a musician and a photographer who are also major stand-outs during the movement. Each of the actors bring about a call to action to get the next main actor to join the protest.
The climax is when Kendall Jenner gives a police officer a can of Pepsi (who accepts), signifying a truce.
The climax scene is inspired by Leshia Evans, who stood up to a police officer during a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest. This is where critiques interpret how Pepsi is trying to emulate a black lives matter movement, and this raises a lot of questions about how the ad relates to a real-life crisis.
Certain objects within the video hold symbolic essence, which I interpret as follows:
- The camera – The photographer – a female wearing a hijab, presumably Muslim – is first shown as a struggling photographer who looks very unhappy and disturbed. As soon as she hears the protest going on, she sees it as an opportunity to put her camera skills to use in order to capture the happy moments, focusing on the diversity that Pepsi were trying to portray.
- The cello – The musician – a male who appears to be of Asian origin – begins the ad playing the cello on top of a building. This act represents a sense of isolation. Later on, the cello becomes a symbol of happiness and unity as it enables him to join a group of musicians within the protest.
- Banners and boards – The banners and boards are meant to showcase the message that the protesters are trying to convey. This is a very important symbol, as the ad involves no verbal communication.
- The Pepsi can – The Pepsi can represents the answer to all of the protesters’ problems. The act of handing out soda cans to one another appears as a sign of togetherness. Towards the end, the can is also used as symbol unifying the protesters and the police force.
Representing the themes of peace, love and unity, the protest and the Pepsi can seem to create a joyous atmosphere that spreads positivity to everyone.
The problem arises from how this ad has been interpreted in relation to current world problems, particularly racism. Black Lives Matter (BLM) has been an ongoing movement for years now. The idea of capturing that issue and using it as a platform to promote a beverage caused a lot of backlash on a global scale.
In relation to BLM, the advertisement production team and cast did not include any dark-skinned people. Also, Kendall Jenner was solely put on the advertisement due to her popularity, which Pepsi thought would boost their sales. Rather, it turned against them, as she has no relation at all to the BLM movement and is actually making money through a BLM- inspired ad.
The ad’s inspiration has clearly drawn from problems that dark-skinned people face every day in America. This act caught the eyes of many public figures, including Stephen Colbert (see 5:20 min mark) and Bernice King (Martin Luther King Jr’s daughter). Bernice tweeted “If only daddy knew the power of Pepsi,” implying how a supermodel with a can of soda easily foreshadows the efforts made by Martin Luther King Jr at his time to empower black lives.
Conclusively, Pepsi may have had the intentions of spreading unity and love through a peaceful protest, but promoting a beverage through that layout seemed exaggerated. The use of people with different races and different talents does not justify not having a black member present within the cast. Most importantly, the protest theme had direct relation to the current crisis in America, which seemed very sensitive to most of the audience that vocalised their feedback. Therefore I believe that international brands and organizations should hold firm to their ethics and not offend anyone with whatever they share to the world.
Pepsi apologised one day after releasing the ad.