Analysis:: Cringe-worthy Pepsi ad uses Kendall Jenner, protests and police to sell soda

Jenner calms the unrest by handing a police officer a can of soda. (April 5, 2017) (Sign up for our free video newsletter here


How will we heal the divisions in American society today? Is there a single, capitalism-friendly solution for creating peace and understanding in our country?

Pepsi has an idea: a can of soda, with a Kendall Jenner twist.

The company’s new ad manages to achieve a startling level of tone-deafness by casting Jenner — yes, Kim Kardashian West’s younger sister — as a high-fashion model who bravely whips off her blond wig to join a throng of protesters and ultimately bridge the divide with white male police.

UPDATE: Pepsi apologizes, pulls controversial Kendall Jenner ad >>


Thing is, it’s hard not to compare the imagery from the commercial with that of an award-winning photo taken last year of a woman and police at a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge, La. But more on that later.

The Pepsi ad begins with a cellist and a photographer — he’s an Asian man, she’s a woman of color in a headscarf — both diligently working solo at their crafts, spliced in with shots of Jenner posing for high-fashion photos. All three notice a crowd of people passing them by, carrying signs that might have been left over from the Women’s March, except that they’re all a certain shade of corporate-approved light blue.

The cellist, frustrated with the work he’s doing by himself, takes his instrument and heads outside to jam with the guys who are playing guitar and dancing in the street. The photographer, frustrated with the work she’s doing by herself, grabs her camera and heads outside to capture the scene.

In turn, Jenner notices the world passing her by, and answering a silent “come join us” invitation from the cellist, boldly takes off her wig to reveal perfectly coiffed brown hair underneath. She takes herself outside, picks up a cold can of Pepsi and strides confidently through the center of the crowd, fist-bumping and hugging the other protesters, who appear delighted that she’s joined the march. Then, she sees the police line.


Kendall Jenner knows just what to do. She hands her Pepsi to the cop, and the photographer crouches down to snap her shutter at just the right moment.

The cop opens the drink and takes a sip to the wild applause of the crowd. Then he raises his eyebrows at his buddy, as if to say, hey, these guys aren’t so bad! They shared their soda with us!

Now back to that image from the real-life protest in Baton Rouge.

That photo, below, shows Ieshia Evans, a mother and nurse, silently standing her ground against police dressed in riot gear. The image won first place in its category at the 2017 World Press Photo Contest.

Ieshia Evans stands silently in front of police in riot gear in Baton Rouge.

Ieshia Evans stands silently in front of police in riot gear in Baton Rouge.

(Jonathan Bachman / Reuters / EPA)

There are a few notable differences between what happens in the Pepsi ad and what happened to Evans. For starters, Evans was arrested. And unlike the real-life officers in riot gear in Louisiana, the suspiciously good-looking cops in Pepsi’s rendition are clad in baseball caps and short-sleeved shirts.

Oh, and Jenner is white.

Pepsi seems to want consumers to identify it as the soda brand of the #resistance, of the sign-waving young people rising up with renewed fervor in the Trump era. Instead, the brand comes across as hopelessly tone-deaf.


Follow me on Twitter @jessica_roy.


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