Let’s talk about that Pepsi commercial
Hours after it was posted, Pepsi was hounded into removing a humble online advertisement. In it, Kendall Jenner shared the beloved soft drink between police officers and protesting young people (marching in favour of “peace” and “joining the conversation”).
The poor multi-billion dollar corporation – its marketers didn’t mean to hurt anyone! They just wanted to connect with those mysterious “youths” they see at universities every now and again – to enter their world; their hashtags; their perspectives – to “join the conversation”!
This means that ads are, by their nature, selfish.
Unfortunately, Pepsi didn’t realise what conversation they were joining. Marching has become a painfully relevant political tool for many reasons, none of which involve carbonated beverages. I’m sure readers of this magazine don’t need reminding of the hostile political climate; modern institutional racism; the deaths behind #blacklivesmatter – we live in times which do not allow us to be politically switched off.
So instead of explaining why marching is important, let’s talk about why what Pepsi did was… problematic.
Obviously, no-one’s saying that advertisements can neither make political statements nor reference a cultural zeitgeist. But however well they do that, it’s always their secondary function – the primary purpose remains commerce.
This means that ads are, by their nature, selfish. So when they invoke politics or painful social realities, everyone knows their obligations aren’t really to the victims of social injustice. They’re to the shareholders. And Trayvon Martin’s death should not be used as a vague cultural touchstone for the explicit purpose of selling cola. It’s disgusting and dismissive in exactly the same way George Zimmerman selling his handgun after trial was. If you want to “join the conversation” Pepsi, do so constructively – say something beyond “soda will create unity between police and street protesters”.
Then, and only then, should the conversation even think of accepting you.