The Candor

Assessing Today’s Social Unrest Through an Ad

Omair Ali

Perspectives Editor

These days, companies are not afraid to incorporate bold messages into television ads. In fact, the ongoing social tension across the nation has encouraged larger figures, like companies, to speak up, even if that means mixing marketing with politics. However, a recent Pepsi ad reminds people that our society is far away from resolving serious, social issues.

Pepsi Ad Leaves Much to be Desired

This commercial, which featured Kendall Jenner, was an ambitious approach to support peace and resolution amid civil unrest in American society—specifically, the broken relations between law enforcement and activists— by using a can of Pepsi to bridge the gap between these two groups. While a lot of thought and effort went into creating the ad, Pepsi missed the mark on many levels.

Even though Pepsi scores points for showing diversity in the peaceful crowd, Pepsi was not able to justify why they chose to featuring Kendall Jenner in the ad other than the fact that she is a face that many young people can recognize. Considering that the ad was modeled after today’s race-based protest groups like Black Lives Matter, there could not have been a worse decision than selecting Jenner, a privileged, white bachelorette, to be the face of social justice. A better choice for the ad would have been someone that could represent the struggles that young minorities face today such as Malala Yousafzai, but perhaps Pepsi decided to choose Jenner to help them profit.

Ignoring all the cringeworthy details, it becomes obvious that Pepsi’s motive was to show that it wanted to sympathize with young people of all backgrounds that are fighting for equality and peace. But using a can of Pepsi to subdue the anticipated tension between an anti-riot squad and a horde of peace-junkies was truly a misinterpretation of the violence and the backlash created by police brutality and civil misconduct. Had Pepsi taken an approach that was not insensitive to the real qualities of social unrest, their ad would have had a higher approval rating.

With these shortcomings in mind, it is obvious that Pepsi was trying to profit from this ad by using a can of Pepsi as a globally symbolic tool to promulgate peace, but this had far too many elements to make their attempt seem more like a marketing ploy to persuade young activists and their allies to buy Pepsi—something that was done in poor taste.

Reflecting on Social Unrest Today

The feedback by the YouTube community and around the nation has shown that there is no way to salvage this ad, which is why Pepsi pulled this ad. But recent evidence shows that not everyone disliked the ad. A survey conducted by Morning Consult shows that young people found this ad to be more favorable than older viewers. Likewise, minorities favored the ad more than white viewers. This should not come as a surprise because the ad was intended to target young consumers from all backgrounds. But the results of this poll indicate that a substantial proportion of people want society to move on from social unrest and perhaps found Pepsi’s Hollywoodized message to bring some comfort.

Perhaps social unrest is not as profound as it was a few years ago, but civil tension persists in many ways. Large-scale political demonstrations are still commonplace and tension has escalated in some parts of the nation during the past few months. But do not forget the importance of leaders who ought to guide society during these turbulent times. Both the previous administration and the current administration have seemingly underachieved and have allowed social unrest to persist. In this manner, the Pepsi ad was not a complete waste. In a way, the ad unintentionally reminds all of us and our leaders that civil unrest is still an important issue, and it is imperative that this issue is resolved—of course, by employing a much better strategy than handing out cans of Pepsi.

Mohammed Haq contributed to this article.