Pepsi responds to criticism, pulls commercial

Gabriel RubioContributor

Supermodel and reality star Kendall Jenner recently partnered with Pepsi to expand on the company’s campaign “Live for now,” which encourages consumers to capture the excitement of the moment. The new commercial aired April 4 and depicted Jenner offering a can of Pepsi as a peace offering during a protest. The new campaign suggests that the power of Pepsi will mend opposing sides and create peace. But the excitement surrounding the commercial missed the mark for audience members.

In the commercial, Jenner stops participating in a fashion photoshoot to join rebellious protesters in the streets. As Jenner pulls off her blonde wig and wipes away her lipstick, she pushes through the crowd to walk toward the line of police officers where she hands over a can of Pepsi as a peace offering. After taking a sip, the officer smiles back at his peers on the defending line, and protesters begin to cheer at the sight of peace amongst opposing sides.

Unfortunately for Pepsi, the company missed the mark by insulting civil rights leaders, expressing white privilege, and also undermining the struggle of protest. The commercial insinuates that a can of Pepsi will resolve serious and unjust social issues. The ridiculous claim that a soda can simply end such powerful struggle is insensitive.

The commercial received a firestorm of criticism from outraged viewers on social media. Twitter users expressed that the commercial was tone deaf, disrespectful, disregarded, and tasteless. The commercial disrespects the struggle that many people had to go through in order to receive civil justice by using powerful concepts that do not acknowledge the truth behind protesting.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter Bernice King posted a picture of her father a day after the debut of the commercial via twitter and sarcastically said, “I wish daddy knew the power of Pepsi.” The advertisement undermines Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle with police for the fight of civil rights.

Pepsi pulled the commercial just two days after its debut following a public apology onTwitter on April 5. “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.” They also publicly apologized for putting reality star Kendall Jenner in an unfortunate position.

All of this happened on the heels of celebrations and remembrances of the legacy of Cesar Chavez on March 31 and the death of Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4. These are significant days that remind Americans of the legacy of civil rights leaders, both known for struggling to gain civil rights through protest in American history.

Chavez was an American union labor leader and civil rights activist who organized farmworkers in the United States with the first strike against grape growers in California. Chavez’s nonviolent methods of boycotts, marches, and hunger strikes went against legal barriers that tried to prevent these protest methods. Through the conflict and struggle, Chavez was able to advance raises and improve conditions for farm workers.

The Pepsi commercial downgrades the harsh battle the Chavez faced during the time of protest as a minority leader. The commercial alludes to the idea that people of color do not have the privilege to challenge the power of authority within social protest, which is false.  

Martin Luther King Jr. lead many nonviolent protests for civil rights in America, and was arrested multiple times during his fight for equality and dealt with conflicts with police. In 1955 he took leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott where Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat and moving to the back of the bus for a white man. The crucial battle between police and regulations of boycotting lasted about a year till Nov. 13 1956, when the Supreme Court declared that segregation on buses was unconstitutional. King went through intense and challenging times fighting for equality in America but the Pepsi commercial does not demonstrate the true reality of protest and undermines King’s efforts.

The backlash against the commercial shows that consumers are sensitive to content that advertisers are creating and will use their voices to express their opinions about controversial topics; the voices of the people actually do matter.