Pepsi Protest Inappropriately Politicizes Product

Annette Ungermann, Staff Writer

Earlier this month, soda company Pepsi released a 2-minute advertisement featuring a political march with protesters hold signs with relatively ambiguous statements like “join the conversation” –all in colors of the Pepsi logo. It seems the piece was intended to mirror the urgency of recent widespread political marches that champion actual causes, thought it fails to make any specific statement on a political issue.

The advertisement also features model Kendall Jenner happily joining the protesters. She hands a can of Pepsi to a young cop that’s barricading the street, apparently defusing the tension. Everyone is happy. The advertisement ends with the statement: “Live Bolder.”

After receiving criticism that called the ad “tone-deaf,” the company pulled the spot from the air. The company also released an apology, stating that their intention was not to make light of a serious issue. The ad was also deleted from YouTube.

Whatever the ad’s intentions, it references the dynamic between protesters and cops in a deeply oversimplified manner. The way that Pepsi displays this dynamic is particularly troubling, given the surge of police brutality against protesters.

The advertisement’s loose reliance on protesting imagery and the generalization of grave situations is misguided.

High profile ads like the one Pepsi released wrongly suggest that by purchasing a product, the consumer somehow engages in a political “conversation”.

Political virtue can not, however, be sold and bought.

Companies like Budweiser brand themselves as quintessentially American. Its most recent Super Bowl advertisement showcases founder Adolphus Bush’s journey as an immigrant, suggesting the company’s solidarity with that demographic. This manner of politicizing a product has truth.  It’s a fact that Budweiser was founded by an immigrant, and for that reason, there was little opposition to it from the public.

What the consumer craves is truth, something sorely lacking in Pepsi’s vague protest scenario.

If the company really wishes to start a conversation, not just profit off of political unrest, staying authentic to the product they’re selling, instead of tying to add meaning where there is none, makes more sense.

Perhaps such advertisements can create a starting point for political conversations, even on the most basic level, but in today’s political landscape, we deserve more information than we’re going to receive in the condensed advertisement format.

Advertisements are not the medium in which to depict intense cynicism and division, and they shouldn’t try to.

Attempting to soften the brutal realities of political divide is grossly inappropriate for the maker of a trivial consumer product like soda, and is a disservice to the people that actually attempt to start difficult discussions, like the news media.