Photo: Pepsi
Photo: Pepsi

OPINION

Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad is a tone-deaf affront to black women

Using the Black Lives Matter movement to sell Pepsi is indefensible, says Tobi Oredein

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By Tobi Oredein on

Ever since I was a child, the Pepsi adverts have been nothing short of iconic. Who can forget Pepsi’s Next Generation Spice Girls advert? Everyone’s favourite British girl group stood in a side street, in front of a silver background, pouting and singing their hearts out in an attempt to make us buy into the Pepsi brand. Then there was the 2004 Beyonce, Pink and Britney Spears We Will Rock You commercial. The three pop stars united in a Gladiator-inspired ad to take down the evil Roman Emperor, played by Spanish crooner Enrique Inglesias. While Pepsi's previous campaigns have always felt like a masterclass in advertising due to their mix of fun and female empowerment, the company’s latest campaign starring Kendall Jenner is a complete fail.

The part-time model, part-time reality star is seen taking part in a fashion shoot, but then ditches the shoot and her blonde wig to take part in a protest. Not only does Kendall join the protesting masses, she “bravely” walks through the crowd to hand a police officer a can of Pepsi. The police officer drinks the fizzy refreshment and the crowds applaud Jenner and an atmosphere of unity and solidarity between the police and protesters is achieved. While some misguided advertising types may argue that the advert is simply continuing its empowering message, most seem to have seen it for the tone-deaf disaster as it is. By creating the concept that a can of coke can solve problems of civil unrest and injustice, Pepsi diminishes the seriousness of current social issues such as the Black Lives Matter and Muslim Ban movements.

The most dangerous aspect of Kendall Jenner’s new advert is that it was inspired by the 2016 image of a black woman called Ieshia Evans

The campaign also creates a problematic and poisonous image that erases the efforts of black and brown people’s efforts in times of social injustice. By using Kendall Jenner, a white woman, as the peace-maker in this protest it plays in the white saviour narrative we all know so well –  when black and brown people suffer at the hands of the establishment, it is white men and women who come to our rescue and solve our problems. We see this white saviour figure in pop culture repeatedly, from films such as 12 Years A Slave and Hidden Figures to videos screened on Red Nose Day. It is only whiteness that can improve these tragic and potentially fatal situations from taking place. And when Kendall Jenner does hand over the can of soda to the police officer in the advert, the moment is photographed by a Muslim woman wearing a hijab. By having this moment captured by a Muslim woman, it further pushes the idea that black and brown women must look to white women when wanting to be a position of power and influence.

 

 

The most dangerous aspect of Kendall Jenner’s new advert is that it was inspired by the 2016 image of a black woman called Ieshia Evans. Evans took part in a Black Lives Matter protest, when a photographer captured her walking up to police dressed in riot gear in an attempt to create peace. The drinks company have delivered what at best can only be called a parody of the powerful image of a black woman who risked her life to create reconciliation between the Baton Rouge police and protesters. Pepsi and Kendall Jenner used this image, and exploited the activism and suffering of black and brown people in order to sell cans of soft drink and boost their bank accounts.

While Pepsi believe their new global campaign “reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony,” I beg to differ. The only message Pepsi’s latest advert showed is that it is a company that lacks the emotional intelligence to understand that it is not right to reduce protesting and activism by black and brown communities to nothing more than a cool and trendy fad for profit

Update: Pepsi has withrawn the advert due to widespread condemnation. 

@IamTobiOredein

 

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Photo: Pepsi
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