An attempt to relate to the youth, the advertisement tried to recreate one many protests that have occurred for the past 4-5 years. In this recreation, however, lacked a sense of reality that portrayed a protest as something enjoyable or akin to the carefree event Coachella.
The ad opened with an Asian man playing the cello (important), showed young Black men breakdancing (also important), then showed Kendall Jenner leaving her high-end photoshoot to participate in the protest (precursor to the most important part). To top it all off, the commercial finished with Jenner grabbing a Pepsi™ and handing it to a cop, which sparked controversy.
The first of many issues with the ad was that there was a lack of diversity. Sure, there were people of color in the mix but in stereotypical roles—Asian man playing an instrument, Black men dancing.
Another issue was the carefree, musical, light-hearted, and incorrect portrayal of a protest or march. Critics were quick to juxtapose images from the ad with that of actual protests and marches. Others were angered, saying that the ad “trivialized” the painstaking, emotional, and dangerous protests that have occurred.
The most controversial issue was the scene in which Jenner handed a cop a Pepsi™. Protesters seemed to be in a standoff against a group of police officers when Jenner stepped up as the ‘lone savior’ to break the tension. After being handed the can and taking a sip, the officer turns over to his colleagues and smirks—as if to say, “Maybe we’re on the wrong side.”
On the day of the release Twitter flooded with reactions to this screenshot:
Cynics thanked Kendall Jenner for ushering in world peace; they praised her valiant ‘conflict-ending’ move; they even took note to bring some Pepsi™ to the next protest. The boldest of tweeted reactions came from Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Bernice King:
This garnered a lot of attention and retweets seeing as the ad was distastefully released on the same day that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
As if to make matters worse, it was remarked by a critic that Pepsi™ had used the likeness of an actual brave protester who had approached policeman armored in riot gear during a protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in July of last year.
Granted this is typically used with celebrities, I believe that Pepsi™ should be held accountable for breaching one of the five privacy torts that states:
5. Appropriation, designed to prevent unauthorized commercial exploitation of someone else’s…name, picture, voice or other personal attributes.
Law and Ethics for Today’s Journalist: A Concise Guide p. 61; Joe Mathewson; Routledge, NY 2015
Despite the difference in setting, Ieshia Evans’s likeness was used in order to create the advertisement. Some may argue that this is a stretch; however, when looking at the image above and considering the attention that Ms. Evans garnered at the time, it is tough to say that Pepsi™ was not the least bit inspired by that powerful moment. In trying to create their own powerful message, Pepsi™ used her likeness presumably without permission in an attempt to market to and profit from the cause-driven youth. Unfortunately, it was a miserable failure that played to the assumption that the corporate world is tone deaf to pressing issues.