A female Muslim photographer, frustrated for reasons not made entirely clear, picks up her camera and captures images of an ongoing protest. The movement is made up of young people that appear to be between the ages 20 to 35, featuring some very stylishly dressed personalities, lightly decorated with tokens of diversity. But fear not—in the middle of a glamorous photo shoot, Kendall Jenner decides to join the cause, and instantly, racism has a savior: all she has to do is hand a police officer a chilled can of Pepsi, and everyone’s problems are solved.
The trope of the Muslim woman in resistance has become increasingly appealing to the politically tormented: one of the recent “Hope” posters by Shepard Fairey, for example, features a proud woman wrapped in a headscarf. In 2014, Republicans teemed over a smiling Muslim woman who appeared in a Coke commercial set to the tune of “America the Beautiful,” prompting the opposition to join this ever-polarizing conversation.
"STOP GUYS! I have a Pepsi multi pack in my car!!" pic.twitter.com/z9dc2MKqd2
— #ResistTrump (@WeDumpTheTrump) April 6, 2017
Yet the Pepsi commercial has made no clear political stance after heavily appropriating symbols of the progressive left. And needless to say, folks with their faces in their palms quickly took to social media to try to make sense of this mess.
Memes emerged, mocking what was described as the commercial’s “tone-deafness.” Madonna, who had been booted from a Pepsi endorsement after receiving Vatican backlash for her blaspheming music video, “Like A Prayer,” giggled audibly enough for all the internet to hear. And still, it took 24 hours of backlash for Pepsi to emerge from its cave.
— Pepsi (@pepsi) April 5, 2017
Skincare company Nivea also had some similar damage control to deal with on Wednesday. Facebook users appalled by an ad with the slogan, “White is Purity,” took to the company page; and in what was undeniably a suicidal public relations move, customer service reps decided to respond to each angry comment with the same exact message, down to punctuation.
In light of these flubs, especially Pepsi’s attempts at a “global message of unity, peace and understanding,” it raises questions of what this says about life in the United States?
Pepsi: We've done it. We've created the most tone-deaf ad of the week. Maybe the year!
Nivea: Hold my beer. pic.twitter.com/jdNfdvqjOg
— Madison Malone Kircher (@4evrmalone) April 5, 2017
The youth vote has become more politically engaged in the present climate than ever before, though only in some regards—like protests—and not in others, such as voting in the 2016 election. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had some stunning success with the demographic, many of whom were first-time voters in the last primary election after finding an enlivening cause to rally behind. Conversation, in the wake of a disappearing bridge of understanding between two major schools of thought, coupled with the ease of social media, has taken a sharp turn into the formerly taboo: politics at the dinner table. Because of soaring changes in how ordinary people conduct themselves on public, social media platforms, and a burgeoning political dissatisfaction amongst youngsters, advertisers would have to be living under a rock to let it go unnoticed.
Pepsi pulling ad + also apologizes to Kendall Jenner – I was under the impression that she's a grown ass woman who was present for filming. https://t.co/60yOA4yTi6
— Yashar Ali ? (@yashar) April 5, 2017
But will the mess of the Pepsi commercial teach money-making machines to take heed? Probably not.
Advertising by nature has always answered to the needs, or wants, of the people. In the late 1980’s, for example, Saturday morning cartoons flourished under President Reagan’s deregulation of media and broadcasting. It became as American as apple pie for children to gather around their television sets and watch what we attribute now to the most nostalgic of childhood memories—”Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, “Scooby Doo” and “Thor,” to name a few. As toy companies seized a commercial opportunity by the horns, muscular green garb appeared from window to window.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 5, 2017
Similarly, the “trendiness” of being politically vocal today is hard to ignore. Advertisers are trained to spot patterns within their target market, and Pepsi is, to little surprise, trying to push its product down the same throats of the persons it featured in its latest commercial: the young and outspoken. Companies seem to be following the trend of becoming less and less afraid of alienating one side of the aisle, because, as they know, a tidal wave of revenue sits on the other side.
Just the same, it poses the question of an ethical grey area. If Pepsi’s commercial had been a success—if they had tastefully and powerfully depicted a young Muslim woman, a crowd of black teens, or a glamorous drag queen struggling to thrive in a bigoted America—would it have been acceptable for advertisers to harp on a generation’s grief and unrest?
And do commercials hold a higher calling than making millions? Can they educate and change social attitudes?What Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Ad Says About Youth Culture in America