The Northern Star Editorial Board is appalled after hearing of the recent advertisement put out by PepsiCo Inc. and its controversy. We stand in solidarity with those that oppose the advertisement and agree that PepsiCo Inc. was right in removing their advertisement.
PepsiCo Inc. released an advertisement April 4 in hopes of illustrating a “global message of unity, peace and understanding,” according to a statement by PepsiCo Inc.
Instead, the internet banded together against the commercial that downplayed the Black Lives Matter movement and other protests by showing that if someone had brought a soda, all of the conflict would cease. The advertisement was pulled the next day after over 1.6 million people viewed the YouTube video with five times more downvotes than upvotes.
“PepsiCo Inc. just pushed out a commercial to try to make a statement, but it was just confusing, and they basically exploited the protests going on, especially Black Lives Matter,” said Rachel Frainy, senior communication and journalism major. “It’s unacceptable to exploit real world problems by using a celebrity for branding purposes.”
PepsiCo Inc. should not use controversial topics or celebrities in order to sell their product, influence people to take a certain stance or make their product seem like something that could save someone or make them a better person.
“If only daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi,” said Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. in an April 5 Tweet.
Through different social media outlets, people expressed their opinions and stood strong with each other. Not only were all generations responding, but activists and movement leaders took over the internet to show the truth to the advertisement.
“If I had carried Pepsi, I guess I never would’ve gotten arrested. Who knew?” said Deray McKesson, civil rights activist and co-founder of Campaign Zero, a police reform campaign, in an April 4 Tweet.
Many of social media’s responses denouncing the advertisement are accurate. Not only did PepsiCo Inc. trivialize social movements throughout history, but they also offended many that have been involved with and aware of the movements that were minimized, causing controversy. The internet has taken to calling the insensitive advertisement tone-deaf, and the Editorial Board stands behind them.
“I didn’t really get the unity idea. I see that they tried, but to me, the overall message was that anything can be solved with a Pepsi — whether that be racial tensions or police brutality,” said freshman psychology major Alyson Godbolt. “Let’s just all have a Pepsi, and everything will be okay, and as nice as that sounds, it is not that simple.”
The advertisement begins with Kendall Jenner quitting a photoshoot, throwing her wig off and joining a mass of protesters. She makes it to the front of the protest where she grabs a Pepsi, walks up to the police line and hands an officer the soda. Right after this, everyone begins hugging and cheering, and the police break into smiles.
“I saw the direct parallel to recent protests, particularly with police and Black Lives Matter,” said Gena Flynn, director of the Center for Black Studies. “By having that all go away from drinking a soda, it really doesn’t take into account the serious nature of the protest activity that’s been happening and the ongoing issues that are happening in the world in general.”
Protesters have demonstrated peace and offered a helping hand to the opposing side many times. In 1967, Bernie Boston of the Washington Post photographed anti-Vietnam demonstrators facing police that were blocking the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The demonstrators stuck flowers into the barrels of the police officers’ guns.
In 2015, during the Baltimore protests, a child carrying an armful of water bottles walked around offering them to police. The photo went viral on Facebook after being shared 69,037 times. Photographer Bishop Cromartie said the police would not accept the water bottles. Neither of these two peaceful offerings made a difference in the protest, and neither resulted with everyone unifying like in the PepsiCo Inc. advertisement.
“There is a picture of Ieshia Evans [during the Baton Rouge protests], who is protesting by standing in front of officers, and it is very powerful, and many people made a connection between the two,” Godbolt said. “It took this black woman strength and courage to stand in front of her oppressors, and Kendall Jenner is just handing them a Pepsi, which does not amount to what Ieshia was doing.”
The Editorial Board acknowledges PepsiCo Inc. for removing the advertisement, but to keep instances like this from happening again, PepsiCo Inc. should consider hiring a more diverse marketing team and consultants that represent our current world and can shed light on why an idea like this should be avoided. If more people were brought in, there is a chance the red flags could have been caught. Aside from this, PepsiCo Inc. should also think about staying away from controversial topics just to sell their product.
“To dismiss the signs of protests that haven’t been peaceful is almost a slap in the face to protesters and things that have been happening. The fact that nobody caught what could end up being offensive — what did end up being offensive — it just speaks to a lack of understanding amongst the people who are planning for these types of projects,” Flynn said.