This is it. This is the sign. #RESIST has officially gone mainstream. Maybe it was the People’s Climate March back in 2014, or the Women’s March in January, but you know dissent is catching on when a brand like Pepsi latches its marketing talons into it. Case in point, this new global ad starring Kendall Jenner as a model-turned-protester, marching in the streets to the tune of Skip Marley’s “Lion.”
Yeah, if ya took all my rights away
Yeah, if ya tellin’ me how to pray
Yeah, if ya won’t let us demonstrate
Yeah, you’re wrong
Yeah, if ya thinking I don’t belong
Yeah, if ya hiding behind a gun
Yeah, if ya hoping we’re gonna run
Pretty edgy for a sugar water ad, non? Or is it? Created by Creators League Studio, PepsiCo’s in-house creative team, the ad features a protest of some kind–for love? Peace? Equality?–but remains ambiguous enough to tap into everyone’s own confirmation bias. Though, the diversity of the crowd suggests it’s not exactly calling for a quicker construction timeline for The Wall. Perhaps the most interesting moment comes when we see a line of (surprisingly unarmed) police set to block the protesters, and Jenner pulls a flower power move, with a can of Pepsi subbing in for a carnation.
At a time of handwringing over whether brands should be taking a stand on social and policy issues, and how they might do it, Pepsi has sidestepped the issue completely by creating an ad that tries to tap into all the emotion of dissent, with none of the conviction. What is the message here? What are they actually standing up for? Maybe the brand is telling us by its choice of soundtrack. But more realistically, it’s half-stepping, and at a time like this, that lack of clarity reeks of all style, no substance.
UPDATED: Hoo boy! This thing really escalated quickly yesterday. This original post went up at 10:20 AM, and by 10:20 PM last night the Internet had found the ad and went straight for Pepsi’s throat. Some because it appeared to trivialize the civil rights movement, others just for its hysterically tone deaf approach to any issue around civil protest. And the critics were often hilarious. Below a sampling of the social response.
If I had carried Pepsi I guess I never would've gotten arrested. Who knew?
— deray mckesson (@deray) April 5, 2017
"Wow, I just solved all the problems in the country by being rich and thin and white and pretty. What else should I do today?" pic.twitter.com/vZiAgrkmaF
— Olivia A. Cole (@RantingOwl) April 4, 2017
Kendall Jenner: Can I copy off of you?
Iesha Evans: No.
Kendall:* Looks over shoulder anyway*
Damn that. I'm getting this Pepsi money. pic.twitter.com/NUXwCZnM7p
— C I L L My Landlord (@GuruBluXVIII) April 4, 2017
Pepsi ad execs quietly scrap their next ad featuring Gigi Hadid standing in front of the Coca Cola Christmas truck in Tiananmen Square.
— Andy (@andywindmill_) April 5, 2017
Nevertheless, she Pepsisted. pic.twitter.com/53e6rxLS50
— Mдтт Иegяiи (@MattNegrin) April 4, 2017
Don Draper takes a drag off his cigarette. "It isn't a drink. It's existentialism. It asks: Whose lives matter?" He pauses. "PEPSI matters."
— Anne T. Donahue (@annetdonahue) April 5, 2017
when you get a free pepsi but remember you still get to use the tear gas for no reason anyway pic.twitter.com/WQjNQYBTjp
— CONWAY TWEETY (@edsbs) April 5, 2017
"Hold my wig, Keisha. I've got some liberating to do!"
"Um, it's Jennifer." pic.twitter.com/pgcqsGAQGu
— Tax-free Hands. (@thewayoftheid) April 4, 2017
When the cops come and you only got Coca-Cola in the fridge pic.twitter.com/GWWO67bkMm
— Ira Madison III (@ira) April 4, 2017
When you order online vs. when it arrives in the mail pic.twitter.com/x4CPSLLbMq
— Ira Madison III (@ira) April 4, 2017
I love immigrants but more than that I love SPRITE. #ad
— billy eichner (@billyeichner) April 5, 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