Well. I’ve finally seen the Pepsi commercial.
So many things wrong with it, and so many things to say.
But first, one or two positives (yes, I found some):
There is cultural diversity. Lots of it. And we see some people in roles we may not usually – a cellist of colour, a photographer who is a Muslim woman. They are both shown honing their craft. I appreciated that. We see Black people, maybe an interracial couple, and Trans people – as part of the story. What story, I’m not sure, but they are present. Well done. Of course there are many identities missing (people with disabilities for one) and I agree with Stephen Colbert that it’s a collection of society’s version of what it means to be attractive – looks and body type. And whose clothing suggest a certain level of income.
I like commercials that are stories. Stories draw me in. It often bothers me when I find out at the end that it’s a commercial, but then I have to hand it to the marketing team who crafted a good story. Stories are compelling. Pepsi is all over this story from the beginning, so a point goes to them for product placement and making the fact that it’s a commercial for Pepsi more obvious. But I’m not sure what the story is here. And that’s part of the problem.
The song suggests a movement. Some of the placards suggest we should join the conversation. Both good ideas, especially in our current climate. So…maybe they are suggesting it’s a march? This march feels more like a party. There is even dancing! Marches usually have a purpose and there is an intention that you can feel. That is missing here. Which makes it feel like it’s mocking protests. Both in the gravity of the things protests draw attention to, and demand change for, and in the gravity of the consequences of the very act of protesting – and for whom those consequences are often greatest (marginalized people).
And then, the ending….!
The end is the most egregious of all the problematic things in this commercial. Kendall Jenner walks through the happy crowd directly toward a police officer and offers him a Pepsi: weird, at best.
But there is more… the officer drinks it and the crowd erupts in cheering and celebration.
The whole sequence from Pepsi trade-off to cheering is wildly unrealistic and deeply disrespectful to the people (usually marginalized) who experience brutality and death when they come into contact with the police. It also shows a deep lack of understanding for the Black Lives Matter movement and why it is necessary and important – because of the way Black people are targeted by police and often not safe in their presence.
And the slogan? Live for now? I could go on and on….
Someone wasn’t thinking at Pepsi. Or maybe no one was thinking.
Maybe there was just no one at the table or at the various levels of approval at Pepsi who got it. Or maybe there was, and they didn’t feel safe to say anything – or weren’t taken seriously. I don’t know which of those scenarios is worse.
The reaction to the commercial is heartening, though.
It suggests, that maybe our collective consciousness and awareness is being raised. More people are “getting it”.
And that’s a very good thing.