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Pepsi ran a commercial with Kendall Jenner, a reality television personality, in which she hands a Pepsi drink to a police officer in order to defuse tensions between demonstrators and police. The advertisement used a picture of Leshia Evans, a black woman who stood up to a line of heavily armed police officers at a Black Lives Matter rally in 2016. (Victor). The organization received criticism for co-opting the protest campaign when portraying Kendall as a mediator between human rights demonstrators and police. A hijab-wearing photographer catches the moment, and the audience is taken aback by the star's courage in restoring peace and justice to America. Pepsi wrote a statement to defend the commercial saying that it was global and reflected people from different ethnic backgrounds working together in harmony; the message was, therefore, essential to the world to restore peace and unity. The company accepted the liability and did not challenge its critics but instead its team (Leopold, Leopold and Bell 723). Pepsi also apologized to Kendall Jenner and the public for the mistake. Eventually, the company removed the advertisement because of the bad reception by consumers.
The company failed to formulate a reasonable advert which traverses all cultural groups without offending anyone. The social media campaign downplayed the enormous sacrifices made by Black Lives Matter movement; the advertisement was insensitive to the many lives lost during the protests. The advert was indirectly suggesting that a can of Pepsi could solve anything even the racists’ killings of black people (Solon). There were a lot of criticisms on the internet by human rights groups and people. Pepsi’s image was on the verge of a massive collapse due to the mistake on the social media campaign and had to find a solution to salvage the situation.
However, there is no such thing as bad publicity because the advertisement was a massive success by the considerable attention it received. Estimation indicates that Pepsi generated around $400 million from free media coverage on the controversy (Victor). The company’s defense on the controversial advert was that the motive was to influence the public’s reaction but unfortunately failed.
The pulling down of the advert and apologizing to the public by the company was a smart move. As much as the decision to remove the campaign from the internet was expensive, it gave Pepsi an opportunity to redeem itself to its customers and the world at large. The company’s move was excellent because it created an image of an organization which was sincerely apologetic for its mistake and willing to lose millions of dollars to remedy its wrong.
However, the company’s apology and removal of the online advert was not adequate to solve the blunder. Pepsi should have created a follow-up advertisement which shows ethnic unity and peace; the ad should have symbolized the company’s solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement. The follow-up advert would have further redeemed Pepsi’s image and also increase its client-base by winning over new customers (McIvor 23). The online campaign would have had an emotional connection with people, mostly persons from the marginalized community.
The company should do better in future by considering all people of different races and each person’s effort when creating an advertisement. Pepsi’s message of global peace and unity should be consistent with local events and cultural diversities.
Leopold, J, et al. "News media and the racialization of protest: an analysis of Black Lives Matter
articles." Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, vol. 36, no.8 (2017): 720-735.
McIvor, David W. Black Lives Matter and the Democratic work of Mourning. Cornell
University Press, 2017.
Solon, Olivia. "Kendall Jenner's Pepsi ad criticized for co-opting protest movements for profits."
5 April 2017. The Guardian. 13 December 2017 .
Victor, Daniel. "Pepsi Pulls Ad Accused of Trivializing Black Lives Matter." 5 April 2017. The
New York Times. 13 December 2017 .
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