retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Wow. That didn't last long.

It only was a day or two ago that Pepsi unveiled a new segment in its "Moments" advertising campaign, using model Kendall Jenner to create a commercial that, as CNBC reported, "aims at reflecting today's millennial generation and 'what living for now looks like'."

Jenner is perceived as having generational credibility, described as a "21-year-old fashionista (who) is the daughter of Kris Jenner and the former Bruce Jenner — who is now known as Caitlyn after sex reassignment."

In the Pepsi-produced film called "Jump In," CNBC wrote, "a diverse group of millennials is seen marching through the streets protesting for love while Jenner poses for a photo shoot. That is, until she decides to wipe off her makeup and walk through the streets herself, joining the peaceful protests with a Pepsi can in hand.

"The ad ends by saying: 'Live bolder, live louder, live for now'."

As it ends up, the only things that were loud were the howls of protest once the ad was posted online, the crashing sound made as all the publicity ran headlong into a social media and late-night-comedy tsunami, and the groveling sound made when Pepsi withdrew the ad and apologized.

Here's how Advertising Age reported it:

"Pepsi is pulling its Kendall Jenner ad after the spot drew a torrent of criticism, including complaints that the ad was not only clumsily executed but that it co-opted protest movements such as Black Lives Matter for commercial gain. The ad had been planned to run globally across TV and digital.

"'Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize,' the brand said in a statement. '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'."


If this was how fast the Pepsi ad got pulled, can you imagine how fast New Coke would've been pulled from store shelves had it been introduced in a social media-driven era?

I have a couple of thoughts about this.

First of all, the decision by Pepsi to try and create connectivity to movements largely being driven by young people was absolutely deliberate. Pepsi has said that it wants to create "emotional connections" such as joy and passion "that can bring people together amid a time of divisiveness." That's why the new ad was populated by an incredibly diverse cast - men and women of a wide variety of ethnicities and ages, including a Muslim woman who has perhaps the second largest role compared to Jenner.

I think that Pepsi's desire to link itself to the passions of a diverse and younger generation was completely sound. It was the implementation that was tone deaf.

When the company created "Pepsi Generation" ads back in the sixties, it was to connect to young people. But those ads showed people largely engaged in fun and athletic pursuits, not social justice advocacy. Pepsi has said that we live in volatile times, but it miscalculated exactly how volatile.

I know that some folks saw the ad as a crass cashing in on things like the Black Lives Matter movement, but I didn't see it that way; I just saw it as a labored attempt to sell a soft drink by trying to be relevant, an attempt that simply did not work. I've been to marches and protests, and they tend to have a lot more energy and passion than as portrayed in the Pepsi ad ... and they also are populated by serious-minded people who don't want to see their opinions reduced to an ad slogan.

To refer back to this morning's FaceTime, the Pepsi ad struck me as a diversity ad thought up and produced by middle-aged white guys.

The Pepsi ad didn't actually stand for anything except more sales. That may have been the worst sin it committed.

Except, perhaps, for the use of Kendall Jenner.

I must confess that if I'd never read any of the coverage, I would have had no idea who she was just by watching the commercial. I have no knowledge of or interest in the Jenner-Kardashaian universe ... except for having a sense that these people are popular for being notorious. Or maybe notorious for being popular. Beats the hell out of me, though the whole syndrome seems to be indicative of the decline of western culture and civilization.

Somehow suggesting that a child of privilege, self-promotion, media overexposure and reality television has any freakin' ideas what the real world is like, much less any passion for social justice, ought to be a poster child for such things, strikes me as offensive in the extreme ... and it puts the lie to any suggestion that Pepsi is sincere in being serious, or serious about being sincere.

In the end, the whole mishegoss is an Eye-Opener about a lot of things - not least the power of social media to unite people in a movement.

KC's View: