Controversial advertising is one of the best ways to earn media. Which seems to be what Pepsi was thinking when it released an ad with model Kendall Jenner, featuring police and protesters, intentionally reminiscent of Black Life Matters protests.

Wednesday, Pepsi pulled the ad after immense backlash from all ends of the political spectrum. The left complained the ad made light of the Black Lives Matters protests while conservatives whined it placed cops in a bad light.

Pepsi Ad

In the ad, Jenner, who plays a model, stops mid-photo shoot to join a bunch of protesters galavanting around police officers. She decided to make peace by offering a Pepsi to one of the cops, who accepts it after a few seconds.

The soft drink company stated:

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize,” a Pepsi spokesman said. “We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Networked Insights, a firm that looks into responses on social media, found the ad inspired 24% negative comments and 8% positive:

For an ad, 24% negative is extremely rare, said Jamie Brugueras, vice president of analytics at Networked Insights. In a typical year, only a handful of ads get this kind of negative response, he said.

Why Tackle Social Issues?

Susan Cantor at branding firm Red Peak explained that companies want to “stay relevant by tapping into the cultural zeitgeist.” She claimed that the ad did not work because Jenner doesn’t usually speak out on social issues:

“It’s an oversimplification of the issue and a dumbing-down of a serious conflict that is plaguing America today,” Ms. Cantor said. “It seems trite, frankly, for a beverage manufacturer to take this on, unless they’re going to take it head-on and take a position.”

Over at TIME, Daniel D’Addario made similar remarks:

If Pepsi were actually to make a commercial that dealt frankly and in a clear-eyed way with police violence, it would still be weird! They are a soda company. But it’d at least be an attempt at the conversation they claim to want, rather than an inauthentic cash-in on many people’s unhappiness. Pepsi’s ad fails not solely for its insensitivity but its overextension of that familiar thing, faux-wokeness to sell a product, past the point where it can be reasonably ignored.

Controversial Political Ads

Cantor and D’Addario also claimed that no one should be surprised Pepsi did this because it’s the cool thing to do now. Politicize all the things!

Look no further than this year’s Super Bowl. It seemed like every commercial had a political message meant to attack President Donald Trump.

Audi sparked a fire when it produced an ad based on the mythical gender wage gap. The company even admitted on Twitter that females employed at Audi receive pay based on their work just like the males:

Lumber 84’s commercial had to get a new ending, but the one produced shows a mother and daughter walking to the American border only to be stopped by a wall. The company’s CEO Maggie Hardy Magerko supported Trump, which caused mass confusion. She insisted the ad was not political:

“It was meant to call attention and to humanize this symbolic journey and show the hard work and determination that 84 Lumber has in all of their current employees, and what they’re looking for in new employees,” Hardy Magerko told the New York Times in an interview last week.


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