Pepsi released a “short film” featuring Kendall Jenner on April 4. While the ad gained immediate attention with over 1.6 million views in under 48 hours, almost none of it was positive. The ad has since been removed after the immense wave of backlash and criticism it has received.
The advertisement portrays Kendall Jenner observing a protest. While on-set of a glamorous photoshoot, Jenner notices a march going by with protesters wielding signs with ambiguous statements such as “join the movement.”
Onlookers begin joining, and eventually Jenner leaves the photoshoot—ripping off her blonde wig, wiping off her lipstick and proudly stepping into the crowd.
The advertisement is corny and in poor taste, but it quickly deteriorates into an offensive and even dangerous message at its climax.
The protestors approach a line of policemen, as Jenner then gives a knowing smile to a fellow protestor and hands one officer a can of Pepsi. They exchange smiles, and the protest erupts into cheers as the policeman takes a gulp.
This advertisement is unbelievably tone deaf, and trivializes the unrelenting violence, aggression and oppression that protestors for movements such as Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock have faced.
Suggesting that if protestors were just friendlier then we would all be able to high-five and share some soda is appalling. The underlying tone of the ad is that we should all just get along—which could be attainable if we were all pretty, white models.
Peaceful protestors in the past few years have been met with militarized response from local police with the use of tactics such as tanks, rubber bullets and tear gas. The idea is that it only takes one brave soul to hand some police officer a refreshing Pepsi to end police brutality and conflict.
Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Junior, tweeted, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi,” adding an image of her father being shoved by a police officer.
It’s nearly impossible to open a newspaper or to turn on the television without hearing about violent protests and the fierce tension between police officers and protestors. How Pepsi managed to ignore all of this and produce such a thoughtless ad that lacks even the most basic knowledge of current events is unimaginable.
Using the struggle of protestors and marginalized groups to serve capitalist goals is absurd. More infuriating is Jenner’s ability to be unaware of how blatantly offensive the displays of privilege are in this ad.
In a public statement from Pepsi, they wrote, “We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”
The fact that they felt Jenner was an innocent bystander in this is even further insulting. Additionally, a source close to Jenner told The Hollywood Reporter, “She’s only 21 and she’s very sensitive. This has been very painful and embarrassing for her.”
Quite frankly, Jenner should be embarrassed. Her age and her apparent sensitivity do not excuse her from this criticism.
Most college-aged people are acutely aware of the injustices going on in our society, and as a public figure Jenner is even more responsible for staying aware of the world around her and for using her voice wisely.
Hopefully, this backlash will be a learning opportunity for Jenner and will allow her to see the importance of understanding her own privilege and to gain some much-needed empathy for protestors and those subjected to police violence.