Of Course the Pepsi-Kendall Ad is a Total Nightmare

Of Course the Pepsi-Kendall Ad is a Total Nightmare
image via the Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner

Pepsi issued an apology a day after it received a significant amount of blowback and criticism over the release of a controversial ad diminishing the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday. “We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout.”

The ad starred white (and very rich) supermodel Kendall Jenner walking off a photoshoot to join a protest that fills the streets behind her. She playfully mingles through the multicultural crowd eventually grabbing a can of Pepsi and delivering it to a stoic police officer.

Before Jenner joins the march, she pulls off a blonde wig and hands it to a black woman on the set in a bumbling “hold-my-beer” moment; there was also an unusual less-than-tense confrontation between Black protesters and police officers (the main reason for many of the protests in the last year was police brutality); and the blatant absurdity of the reaction to Jenner giving a police officer a can of soda, which elicited cheers from what seemed more like a displaced Coachella crowd than a march of people protesting rampant social injustice.

Criticisms came at the ad from all directions with memes putting Pepsi in the backdrop of some of the most significant events in history, including into the hands of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Tweets dealing sad/hilarious/but mostly just sadder blows.

Dr. King’s daughter Bernice, Tweeted, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”

It was “precisely the opposite of their real-world experience of protesting police brutality,” the New York Times noted the response from many activists.

“No one is finding joy from Pepsi at a protest,” Elle Hearns, the executive director of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute and formerly an organizer for Black Lives Matter, told the Times. “That’s just not the reality of our lives. That’s not what it looks like to take bold action.”

Protesters coincidentally met Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi during a speech in Dallas on Tuesday, the same day the video was released, dropping a banner reading: “Indra, No Child Labor For Pepsi Profits,” protesting Pepsi’s relationship with palm oil producers employing controversial practices.

Pepsi has disregarded requests from numerous organizations including Rainforest Action Network to clean up its palm oil business for years (palm oil is used in snacks like Doritos, a Pepsi-owned brand), despite making claims that it is indeed committed to 100 percent sustainable palm oil. According to RAN, the commitments are meaningless lip service, and ignore critical components of palm oil production.

Most of the world’s palm oil producers, primarily in Indonesia, are responsible for rainforest destruction, loss of habitat for numerous species including the orangutan, and widespread child labor issues. It has been a touchstone issue for celebrities and cause-driven companies, but without major commitments from companies like Pepsi, reversing its damaging effects is almost impossible.

But should any of this really come as a surprise?

Multinational companies like Pepsi are the Wall Street banks of our supermarkets and our dinner tables—they’re too big to fail, even though they should. Their interest doesn’t lie in changing the world for the better, or even changing their products for the healthier, like many of the nascent brands beginning to take market share away from the behemoths. No, for Pepsi and its ilk, interest lies solely in breaking sales records, year after year, and by any means necessary.

And it’s that bull market agenda that most resonated with the executives who green-lighted placing Pepsi inside a protest march–the proverbial olive branch, in this case. Because as Americans are now beginning to stand up and “Network” themselves out into the streets as much as on the Internet (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”), it seems the corporations and institutions they’re rising against are prepared to begin doing the same. So, be mad, America. But just know that Pepsi is madder than you are, or ever will be. And it’s going to do whatever it takes to get you to drink more of it. Like it or not.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.