How Kendall Jenner's Pepsi ad missed the mark on social justice

    Reflecting on the controversial Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner, which faced immense backlash for trivializing social justice movements and protests. Jenner's attempt at peace with a can of Pepsi sparked widespread criticism.

    Kendal Jenner's Pepsi ad (Source: The New York Times)

    Kendal Jenner's Pepsi ad (Source: The New York Times)

    In 2017, Pepsi's ad featuring Kendall Jenner stirred a storm of controversy by misrepresenting the essence of protest and social justice. As we look back, this incident stands as a stark reminder of how commercial interests can misinterpret and trivialize significant social movements. The ad, which aired on April 4, 2017, depicted Kendall Jenner, a prominent figure from Keeping Up with the Kardashians, offering a can of Pepsi to a police officer during a protest. This act was intended as a gesture of peace and unity. However, the ad faced immediate backlash for oversimplifying and commercializing the complex dynamics of civil rights activism and police relations. The ad has been criticized for seemingly co-opting the resistance movement, showcasing how a global brand missed the mark in understanding the gravitas of such moments in history.

    Social media and public backlash

    The Pepsi ad, accompanied by music from Skip Marley, Bob Marley's grandson, became the subject of intense criticism on social media platforms. Twitter exploded with reactions, mocking and condemning the ad's insensitivity. Memes and tweets highlighted the absurdity of suggesting that a soft drink could bridge deep societal divides. "Y'all gonna sit here and act like MLK Jr. and Michael Jackson didn't end the LA Riots with a can of Pepsi," tweeted Ashley C. Ford, showcasing the public's disbelief and sarcasm towards the ad.

    "It’s not the first time that a sugary drink brand has tried to capitalize on a message of peace and love at a time of protest," the ad was compared to Coca-Cola’s 1971 Hilltop ad. However, unlike its predecessor, Pepsi's attempt was seen as an inappropriate and tone-deaf approach to addressing serious societal issues.

    The impact on Kendall Jenner and Pepsi

    Kendall Jenner's involvement in the ad brought her under intense scrutiny. The juxtaposition of a privileged, white supermodel as a mediator in a racially charged protest scene was criticized for its lack of authenticity and sensitivity. Pepsi, in response to the outcry, stated, “This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony,” but this message was lost amid the controversy.

    Reflecting on the lessons learned

    Today, as we reflect on this incident, it serves as a cautionary tale for brands and public figures. The misstep by Pepsi and Jenner highlights the importance of understanding and respecting the complexities of social justice movements. It reminds us that commercial interests must navigate the landscape of activism with sensitivity and awareness, especially in a world increasingly conscious of social and political nuances.

    As we move forward, the Pepsi ad remains a significant case study in the intersection of advertising, celebrity culture, and social activism – a blend that, if not handled with care, can lead to misunderstandings and public backlash.

    (Several parts of the text in this article, including the title, were generated with the help of an AI tool.)