Why was that Pepsi ad so controversial….?

It has now been almost a week since the release of the Pepsi television advert famously labelled as the worst ad of all time. And the company continues to feel the backlash.

The campaign, featuring Keeping Up With The Kardashians star Kendall Jenner, provoked a huge reaction on social media and for all the wrong reasons. It has received criticism from industry experts, politicians and even the daughter of Martin Luther King.

If you haven’t seen it yet, then this is what you’re missing. The scene opens with a protest on a generic American street, complete with banners with taglines such as ‘love’, ‘peace’ and ‘join the conversation’.

Pepsi’s originality already falls under question at this point but that is certainly not the biggest problem with the advertisement.

Whilst attending a nearby modelling photoshoot (obviously), Kendall Jenner witnesses the fracas and, with an air of teenage rebellion, whips off her blonde wig, smudges her lipstick and joins the unsurprisingly diverse and inclusive crowd.

Noticing the potential for trouble, evidently the most effective way to defuse the tension is to hand an ice-cold Pepsi to a nearby police officer. Harmony is restored after just one sip. The ad then concludes with Pepsi’s message of “live bolder, live louder, live for now," flashing up on the screen.

With protest not an uncommon sight in today’s world, using topical issues in an advertising campaign is nothing new but there are many reasons why this particular advert has struck a nerve with so many people across the globe.

Pepsi may have had good intentions with the concept but there is no doubting that it seemingly romanticises and trivialises extremely important issues close to the hearts of millions of people.

The idea that some kind of peace and unity between the activists and law enforcement can be achieved by simply handing over a can of the soft drink is absurd and, quite frankly, offensive to those minorities who have had to fight so hard for their voices to be heard.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the entire video comes right at the end with Jenner face to face with the police officer before handing him the drink.

It is hard to not notice the striking resemblance between this and the now-iconic image of Ieshia Evans being arrested at a Black Lives Matters march in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Using such strong imagery from a topic of this magnitude and then using it for commercial gain, has left a sour taste in the mouths of many who have viewed it.

The perception of the protest being a place of happiness, dancing and laugher as Pepsi have demonstrated in this advertisement is also a world away from the violence, arrests and tear gas which have become common sights in recent times. 

However, amongst the apologies from Pepsi for ‘missing the mark’ and for ‘putting Kendall Jenner in that position’, there is no doubting that the main topic of conversation in the advertising world in the last week has been all about Pepsi.

The saying goes that the only thing in life worse than being talked about is not being talked about, so it could be argued that the brand is actually quite pleased it has sparked such a reaction.

It certainly makes you question how a brand the size of Pepsi could approve such a clearly inappropriate campaign without somebody raising concerns.

This begs the question is this just a technique brands use to get publicity? And if so should we, the consumers, be happy with this?

Pepsi are not the first company to face a backlash from an advertising campaign and they won’t be the last. Just days before the Pepsi ad aired, German personal care brand Nivea posted a Facebook advert with the slogan ‘White is purity’ which clearly produced negative racial connotations.

Back in 2013 Dunkin’ Donuts ran a campaign in Thailand focusing on their new Charcoal Donut product. A poster depicted a woman in ‘blackface’ makeup with bright pink lips and a planned television advert with the same images was promptly pulled.

With Kendall Jenner herself yet to comment on the controversy, it is clear to see that if brands do not conduct their campaigns correctly they will incur the wrath of a social media backlash. Lessons can be learnt by all brands from this situation, and going forward you can be sure that companies will give their adverts a lot more thought.

If you have a campaign and would like to use a celebrity, then get in contact with Champions Celebrity Talent Management. Call us on 08453 31 30 31 or email and one of our dedicated team will get back to you.    

6 years ago
Post Categories
Other Posts
Dominic Holland
Dominic Holland shares new research about boomerang kids with Skipton Building Society
Dominic Holland shares new research about boomerang kids with Skipton Building Society
Andy Abraham
Andy Abraham is a hit at BT Tower
Andy Abraham is a hit at BT Tower
Roy Walker
Roy Walker collaborates with Drinkaware on Alcohol Awareness Week
Roy Walker collaborates with Drinkaware on Alcohol Awareness Week