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Why the Pepsi ad really sucks

There is something extremely tiresome about – quite literally – sugar coating protest in an age where the world really needs it

“Join the conversation” read some hysterically banal placards in Pepsi’s new ad, starring Kendall Jenner. It’s advice that the drinks company would do well to take on board themselves – as ever with these seemingly weekly missteps from corporations trying to be woke, the question has to be asked: how did this get through meetings in the boardroom? 

Rightfully lampooned for its all-encompassing inauthenticity, Pepsi’s attempt to protest misses the point entirely because it suggests that protests are blandly surreal day raves with your new favourite soft drink, meaning it sits stubbornly in a saccharine sweet spot that tastes pretty sour. Kendall has to give the drinks can to the cop – because Pepsi can’t have the police reacting badly to this make-believe mock up of the real world. Remember what happened when Beyoncé jumped on a police car in her “Formation” video? Law enforcement called for a boycott of her entire tour. Maybe she lost money, maybe it didn’t matter, but there was a backlash.

The company’s celebratory clamour for unity is exactly what our world doesn’t have right now, hence IRL movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, marches against the free leader of the free world being a sexist bully and demands that we repeal racist refugee bans. Pepsi’s defence is that “this is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony”, but this is so detached from reality that it’s severed. People don’t march to celebrate unity, they do it to challenge its absence.

Much conversation online criticised the Kardashians for having never spoken out on political issues, which is actually unfair – Kim Kardashian has been very vocal about the need to recognise the Armenian genocide – but in a polarised America celebrities are afraid to voice political opinions for fear of alienating a fanbase and consequently losing cash. Kendall Jenner has never spoken out about #BlackLivesMatter, the movement that this ad is clearly inspired by. There is then something deathly about pretending to protest because you know Pepsi will cough up a huge cheque. Halfway through the clip, Kendall tosses her wig to a black woman and walks away in a tone-deaf part of an advert that’s aping the struggle of black people. Slaaaay queen!

“The whole ad is set up as though protest is just a one big Instagram-friendly moment and to an extent that’s true – because social media has been vital in recording incidents of police aggression”

The whole ad is set up as though protest is just a one big Instagram-friendly moment and to an extent that’s true – but it’s to record incidents of police aggression like this cop in Ferguson pointing his gun at protestors and saying “I will fucking kill you”, or to document what life is like at Standing Rock, rather than to capture the shrieking of empty platitudes and handing out Pepsi to police.

The track is provided by Skip Marley, grandson of Bob, who wrote some of the greatest protest songs of all time and it’s hard to imagine that this was not a box-ticking move on Pepsi’s part, a desperation to be involved with “the resistance” in any way, shape or form, even if it means mining the actual DNA of pop culture protest. Katy Perry also wheeled out Skip Marley for her woke-pop hit “Chained To The Rhythm”, a vague stab at saying something, anything about #theresistance.

Corporations will always find a way to sell movements back to you – again see numerous high-street stores selling “Feminist” t-shirts. Pepsi is not the first to do this, and will not be the last – funnily enough it’s eerily similar to the Chemical Brothers’ video for “Out Of Control”, itself a satirical criticism of corporations. Yes, protests are so hot right now but that’s because the world is on fire – see racists in the White House, racists dictating politics in the UK and a severe refugee crisis that’s wilfully ignored by most of the world.

If we run with the pretty-hard-to-argue-with theory that capitalism is inherently racist (watch genius comedian Richard Pryor talking about it here as long as 40 years ago) then Jesus Christ it’s tiring to see a corporation using the spirit of anti-racism protests in order to shift product.

This is obviously an ad made by people who have never been to a protest, but can see that’s something is happening and desperately want to “join the conversation”. Pepsi hasn’t managed that, but instead started a whole new one. They should listen in.