Similar to Starbucks’ ill-fated “Race Together,” Pepsi’s new ad campaign landed flat—in just a day. But whereas Race Together made patrons (and probably baristas) uncomfortable as they attempted to start a dialogue around race, Pepsi’s ad has managed to incense advocates and consumers for a myriad of reasons.
The two-and-a-half–minute montage begins with a multicultural group of millennials walking down a nondescript urban street. Some are dancing, others are playing instruments; one young woman in a hijab runs out from her apartment to take pictures of the crowd as it swells. Off to the side, model Kendall Jenner ditches a photo shoot—and a blonde wig—to join the cheerful march. The ad comes to a head when the camera angle expands to show a line of police (also good-looking millennials) at the end of the street. Jenner brings a Pepsi to one of the officers who drinks it and smiles to his colleagues.
Pepsi said the ad was intended to send a message of peace and unity, but critics have claimed it makes light of systemic issues. Black Lives Matter advocates denounce it for trivializing the movement, while others blasted it as furthering a negative stigma around the police.
While main competitor Coca-Cola has long relied on its “classic” taste and marketing, Pepsi found its stride by courting the younger generation. Twenty years ago that involved a commercial/music video of the Spice Girls dancing in Pepsi-blue attire while displaying cans of soda. A decade later, Britney Spears sang through the decades, all the while drinking Pepsi.
The newest ad attempts to embody its signature youthful fun, but the allusion to a much more serious topic is a first for the 100-plus year old company. As Washington Post pop culture reporter Elahe Izadi told NPR this morning, “At first I thought it was parody. I just couldn’t believe how they were able to mash in all of these clichés into two minutes.”
Pepsi admitted it “clearly missed the mark,” and pulled the ad Wednesday.