Think back to November and the presidential election. On Duke's campus and all around it seemed everyone was inspired to take political action. One day there was a rally at the Chapel. Then a march in Raleigh over the weekend. A protest at RDU. My Snapchat and Instagram feeds were filled with pictures of protest posters and crowds of people.
Then, over time, I started to see less and less. The conversations on campus of protests and talks, rallies and meetings slowed to a halt. What happened? My guess is people became less motivated over time to stay involved. I'm guilty of it too. But maybe there's also something bigger going on here.
Flash forward five months and Pepsi releases a new commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. Another example of a celebrity promoting one of our favorite multinational brands, right? Wrong. Rather than go for a classic commercial with Kendall sipping on the soda, Pepsi decides to depict a scene of a protest, where Kendall and a can of Pepsi save the day, uniting the protestors and police.
Im sorry, WHAT? Did the ad execs at Pepsi just decide to try and market its product through a general protest? Really?
Pepsi realized the mistake, publicly apologized and pulled the ad on Wednesday, April 5th, a day after it was posted on YouTube.
The company statement rationalized the commercial: “we did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout." Instead, "Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize."
What happened on campus, and in this ad, though, seem to be related. There seems to be a trend of political activism that is carrying through both cases. On campus, being politically active was a trend that was easy to join. Students were attending events they may not have before and sporting their new "The Future is Female" tee shirts.
Pepsi seems to have noticed this trend, and thought it would be a way to appeal to millenials. The protest in this commercial is completely general. There are signs reading "Join the conversation" or displaying peace signs, but what does that even mean? Others have commented that the commercial is reminiscent of the Black Lives Matter movement, looking at the interactions between the protestors and police.
Interpret as you want, but there's something to notice with the way "political activism" has been used as a marketing tactic here. In a time of police brutality and headlines of killings, this is not a topic fit for soda. However, maybe it is a topic we need to speak about more generally, and question the way its been applied here.
Maybe that's the conversation they're trying to inspire. What happens when they miss the mark?