Ah, Pepsi. A drink loved by all Americans (unless you prefer Coke, in which case, you’re wrong). They’ve done some pretty great things lately, like temporarily bringing back Crystal Pepsi. But unfortunately, they also tend to do some things that aren’t too great. I’m sure that by now, all of you have seen the most recent Pepsi ad, featuring Kendall Jenner. If you haven’t, here it is:
Who knew that such important issues like police brutality could be solved by simply giving the cops a can of Pepsi? I’m sure that would totally work out for your average protester.
Co-Opting a Movement
With big issues like police brutality and the BLM movement, trying to use those issues to sell your product by implying that it will somehow magically end the issue is a little bit tone-deaf. This bears a striking similarity to what I mentioned in a recent blog post about Dove trying to co-opt feminism as a way to get more sales in their “Real Beauty” campaign. Companies are willing to acknowledge these issues when it’s beneficial for them, but ignore them when they could actually do something to help. By throwing together a bunch of racially diverse people (and Kendall Jenner) and putting them into a fake protest, it’s just trying to profit off of the movements that people are getting arrested over by commercializing it (literally).
This is especially icky when people bring up comparisons between the scene of Jenner lovingly handing a Pepsi to the cop to an image of a protester (Ieshia Evans) being arrested at the front of a police line in a protest. This picture has become fairly well known, so although I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, they really don’t deserve it. They were directly referencing a woman getting arrested except sanitizing it with Jenner appealing to the cops with a can of probably luke-warm soda so that the cops can join in and hang out with the protesters, which is absolutely what happens in real life. It essentially makes it seem like any protest that ended with police violence was the fault of the protesters, as they just weren’t going about things right. Which is a pretty funny ideology to be pushing when the person featured in the ad isn’t within any of the groups that are traditionally targeted by police, so it’s not like she’d be put in a compromising position anyway.
The idea of co-opting the ideas of protests while completely ignoring what is happening to actual protesters has been a pretty common phenomena recently. In another event featuring Jenner, Chanel turned their runway into a “women’s rights protest” at a fashion show, bringing out the big signs saying things like “He for She” and “History is Herstory”. How shockingly radical. And again, this was a group of conventionally attractive people marching in a “protest” that wouldn’t lead to any arrests and wouldn’t actually accomplish anything except maybe convincing some entry-level feminists to buy their clothes.
“As surely as the revolution will be televised, it will be monetized,” stated Amy Zimmerman for the Daily Beast. By not even using someone who was known for their activism, it makes it pretty obvious that Pepsi was just trying to appeal to Jenner’s popularity and the current media boom surrounding her and her sister. This is not how to do activism. This is looking at a movement and saying “oh so this is a big thing right now, I bet we could use it as a way to get hip kids to buy our soda because they’ll think we’re with the times.” Pepsi no that’s not how this works.
Part of this, obviously, is related to the rampant celebrity culture that is so overwhelming in the US. And as I stated in a previous post, I don’t blame the general public for the celebrity obsession.
Ad agencies and other higher-ups saw that celebrities were selling, so they decided to start using celebrities for everything. News outlets are reporting every move that whoever is big right now is making, so it keeps the public interested in what’s going on with said person. That’s why you’ll see a ton of commercials featuring celebrities selling products, because people think that if they see a celebrity endorsing their product, they’ll immediately want it. This is the case with the Dior ad (left), featuring Jennifer Lawrence. If the average person sees their favorite actress ever Jennifer Lawrence wearing Dior in a magazine, one would assume that it would make them more likely to buy the product. Unfortunately for Dior, most people can’t afford any of their things, so their advertising falls flat for about half of the population that they’re advertising to.
In addition to issues with celebrity culture, it’s just a thing that’s been happening for a while. There’s a huge difference between being an ally of a movement and completely co-opting a movement, and people tend to have trouble with the border between the two. A major way that companies and individual people fail in terms of actual allyship is giving a role to the people who you’re being an ally for. By having Kendall Jenner be the face of all oppression in America, it ignores everyone at protests who actually is oppressed and actually faces arrests and police brutality while they’re marching. If they had used someone like Ieshia Evans who had actually been in a situation like that before, it could’ve given them a little bit more room to talk about it. But instead, the used Kendall Jenner. To go along with that, if you’re an ally, your efforts should actively involve the people who you are allying for. You have to be actively contributing to the efforts rather than showing up when it’s convenient for you and trying to take charge of a movement. As a white person, I wouldn’t expect to be the center of attention at a Black Lives Matter protest. But when media does this, due to their desire to include celebrity culture, they often put people at center-stage who don’t belong there. That’s not being an ally, that’s making the movement into a statement about you and a way to make yourself look better.
Pepsi, I get it. People have been pushing for the population to stop drinking soda due to it being unhealthy and full of sugar. But if you want people to come back to you, maybe try to pick methods of advertising that don’t co-opt a very important movement going on at the current time. I know that my mom didn’t stop drinking her daily 2 cans of Pepsi, instead try to appeal to people like her with commercials featuring goofy animals or something. Don’t try to show a movement to “get the kids interested” when you completely butcher everything about the movement.