The last couple of years have been particularly bleak with the triumph of xenophobia, racism and bigotry seen with Brexit and Trump’s rise to power, as well as the murders of black people in police custody in both the US and the UK. In these dark times, sometimes we look to celebrities and those perpetually in the lime-light to represent and articulate how the rest of us are feeling. Thankfully, it appears that Kendall Jenner has taken up this particular gauntlet, showing us in a three minute advert that all we needed to decimate racism was a can of Pepsi.
The video opens with a nondescript march that appears to be simultaneously protesting everything and nothing. Enter Jenner – the model is in the middle of a photo shoot when she becomes distracted by the huge action making its way past her. She locks eyes with an activist and a simple exchange, including some eye contact and a nod of the head, gives Kendall the courage she needs to rip off her blond lace front and smear her lipstick as she heads out to stop all racism ever.
We then cut to close ups of a line of police officers blocking off the march as well as some of the happy-go-lucky protestors of different races, gender presentations and ages who just all seem really pleased to be there – so wholesome, so palatable. Kendall returns, striding over to pluck a can from the bucket of assorted chilled Pepsi drinks, which makes sense because we all know that no fight against injustice is complete without brandishing a carbonated soft drink.
Now, you’d be forgiven if you thought that Kendall had picked up this drink to quench her own thirst, but no, our champion continues to walk through the applauding crowd drink in hand. She pauses to fist-bump a black activist, just so that we know she’s down with the peeps and really doesn’t see colour, but a question still hangs in the air, where is she taking this can of Pepsi? Finally, we have our answer. She stops in front of one of the police officers and offers the can, a modern day olive branch, a crucial moment which is immortalised forever by a photographer in a headscarf. The crowd goes wild as the officer guzzles the sweet fizzy nectar which doubles as an eye-opening serum because, in that moment, all has become clear. Racism is now obsolete, injustice is no more and we can all go home.
The Pepsi advert is rather reminiscent of the 1971 ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’ advert that came towards the end of the Vietnam war. Considered to be “the world’s most famous ad” it shows people of different colours and ethnicities grasping bottles of Coca-Cola on a hilltop in Italy. One of the musicians who helped write the jingle stated that “the lyrics, although not overtly anti-war, delivered a message of peace and camaraderie.” In other words, another example of marketing that took advantage of current political and social climates, using enough buzzwords and imagery to appear attractive but not too much to avoid driving too many customers off.
It’s not impossible to fuse social issues with the marketing of a product without poorly co-opting the issues. Amazon’s 2016 Christmas advert featured an imam and a vicar exchanging gifts during a time when racially motivated crimes had increased after the EU referendum results. The advert is simple and effective, with the vicar played by a real practising vicar in London while the imam is played by a devout Muslim and principal of a Muslim school. If only the casting team for Ghost in the Shell were informed that sometimes it really is that easy.
We currently live in an age where representation of marginalised groups is no longer a suggestion but rather, a prerequisite. A lack of intersectionality is now a deal-breaker and with the wealth of resources and knowledge being produced by young creatives everyday, I refuse anything other than this being a deliberate ploy on Pepsi’s behalf. I refuse to believe that, from drawing board to the screening of the finished advert, there wasn’t a single person who thought that maybe this utterly vapid presentation of social justice might not go down too well. I do believe, however, that by throwing in a few actors of colour, seen in the ad dancing about and mingling with white people, Pepsi believed we would be distracted from the abysmal that is this advert. Because, diversity, right? They counted on it dazzling us so much that we’d forget about how the real-life peaceful protestor at Baton Rouge, Leshia Evans, was handcuffed and thrown in jail for 24 hours after calmly facing off against US riot police – a little different from Kendall’s reception.
When Kendall gives the cops a Pepsi it’s all good, but when my Black friends protest nonviolently they’re “thugs & criminals”. pic.twitter.com/MnzNk3f5rs
— Vinay A. Ramesh (@vinaytion) April 4, 2017
— maya (@mayaelysee) April 4, 2017
So here’s to Pepsi for risking it all to try and milk a few more sales, some publicity and to be in with “cool, lit woke kids”. Here’s to Kendall, the hero we didn’t know we needed, for single-handedly ending all the –isms. And lastly, here’s to all those who have protested or have been involved with grassroots activism on any level, I bet you’re all feeling mighty silly now. Martin Luther King Jr. could’ve packed in all that dreaming a lot sooner if he had known that all he needed was a can of fizzy drink.