Worst ad of the year: Kendall Jenner quells social unrest and promotes harmony with Pepsi

April 6, 2017 • 9:00 am

Remember the old 1971 ad for Coca-Cola with the song “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”, proving that diverse peoples could be united by sharing a soft drink? Here it is:

That reminds me of the Google Doodle I wrote about the other day, promoting diversity but doing so in a way that irritated many of us. Sentiments about unity are easy to come by and easy to make, allowing you to flaunt your virtue (and indeed, such sentiments are virtuous and to be desired), but they overlook the very real problems of the difficult issues that divide us—things that often seem intractable.  Further, simplistic solutions simply look dumb: you can’t unite the world by sharing Cokes or drawing cute Google Doodles. What does that accomplish?

But tell that to Pepsi and Kendall Jenner, both of whom got into trouble for creating a 2.5-minute video ad (below) that uses recent social unrest to sell Pepsi, suggesting that all such unrest can be quenched with a carbonated beverage. As Pepsi said on the video’s YouTube site:

A short film about the moments when we decide to let go, choose to act, follow our passion and nothing holds us back. Capturing the spirit and actions of those people that jump in to every moment and featuring multiple lives, stories and emotional connections that show passion, joy, unbound and uninhibited moments. No matter the occasion, big or small, these are the moments that make us feel alive.

Starring Kendall Jenner and featuring music from Skip Marley.

Now, Kendall being a Kardashian, a family with more money than neurons, you’d pretty much expect something like this, though Pepsi bears most of the responsibility. And I suspect that the Kardashian philosophy is that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” since the fracas about the ad has simply has given the family more public notice. But Pepsi, embarrassed, has now withdrawn the ad (see below).

Watch for yourself. Kardashian, doing a modeling gig and then spying a crowd protesting some unspecified wrong (Pepsi, after all, can’t take sides), decides to become a social justice warrior, doffing her wig, wiping off her lipstick, and striding into the fray. There, judiciously offering a can of Pepsi to a thirsty cop, Jenner makes everything right—to the joyous approbation of all.

Note the hijab-wearing photographer and the Asian cellist, both also drinking Pepsi. Note as well the fist bump, with Kendall’s Pepsi-bearing fist knocking a black man’s. Full inclusiveness, true, but also cultural appropriation! Yet why is there a tub full of iced Pepsi in the middle of a demonstration?

Be sure to spot the upside-down peace symbol at 1:46.

Yes. the ad is dire and cringe-inducing, and it’s prompted backlash from many who saw it as a commercial appropriation of real political unrest such as that instantiated by the Black Lives Matter movement. For once, though, I find the protests far more defensible than the commercial itself, especially because they’re tinged with sarcastic humor. The one exception is the hectoring and humorless HuffPo piece by religion editor Car0l Kuruvilla (click on screenshot to go to article), whose virtue-signaling and hijabophilia I detest.

Out of all the things she could have written about the ad, she concentrates on the Muslim woman, with the ever-outraged Kuruvilla saying this:

Along with making light of protests against police shootings, the ad was also criticized for using images of a Muslim woman without amplifying the issues that have actually caused Muslim women to protest.

The ad failed to mention any of the issues that have troubled American Muslims over the past few months ― continuing religious-based discrimination and surveillance, President Donald Trump’s backdoor Muslim ban and his resounding silence about attacks on mosques, the bullying of Muslim kids, the rise in prominence of white supremacist groups, the fight for black lives. [JAC: Note to Kurivilla: it’s an ad, for crying out loud, not a piece of political analysis!]

But it used the image of a Muslim woman in a headscarf to sell soda to the masses.

Although Pepsi has removed the ad, this kind appropriation of a Muslim woman’s image is not new and not likely to go away soon.

What’s amusing here is that her article quotes with approval a statement from a Muslim woman:

In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Misha Euceph, a Muslim journalist who does not wear a headscarf, pointed out that the ad also represents Muslims women “through a single item of clothing.”

“I understand the desire to create a culture of inclusion, but the line between welcoming and tokenizing is very thin,” she wrote. “Today, the culture wars are being fought on the bodies of hijabis, as these women are the easiest Muslims to notice. They should be relieved of the burden of representing 1.7 billion diverse people.”

Yet, as I’ve documented repeatedly, HuffPo, which has posted article after article extolling hijabi fencers, ballerinas, news anchors, and so on, has made a living by equating Islam with women wearing hijabs.

But back to serious and humorous pushback. Perhaps the most powerful response on social media was the tweet by Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr,:

The Independent showed some other Twitter responses:




And remember the iconic picture on the left (below)?

After all this, the New York Times reports today (Thursday) that the ad has been withdrawn:

Pepsi on Wednesday pulled an ad after it was widely mocked and criticized for appearing to trivialize protests for social justice causes.

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding,” the company said. “Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.”

It said it was “removing the content and halting any further rollout.”

Who do they have as their advertisers? It seems to me that any rational person seeing the prospectus for the ad, or the video itself, would flag it immediately as soppy and stupid.  The Times report continues:

. . .[Pepsi] initially described the spot as featuring “multiple lives, stories and emotional connections that show passion, joy, unbound and uninhibited moments. No matter the occasion, big or small, these are the moments that make us feel alive.” That description was also derided on social media.

The Purchase, New York, company had stood by the ad late Tuesday. By Wednesday, it was apologizing to Jenner for putting her “in this position.”

Critics say the image of Jenner handing the officer a Pepsi evoked a photo of Black Lives Matter protester Ieshia Evans approaching an officer at a demonstration in Baton Rouge last year. Others criticized the protesters’ signs for being comically innocuous, with messages like “Join the Conversation” and heart and peace signs. The website Gothamist expressed a common sentiment online in calling the ad “gloriously tone-deaf.”

I think Jenner is old enough to realize what position she was “put in,” but of course the Kardashians are gloriously tone-deaf about society and politics.

While Israel and Palestine battle it out, Assad drops chemical weapons on his own people, and North Korea fires yet another missile, the last thing we need is what one reader described as “mindless, relentless, hortatory pablum.”

44 thoughts on “Worst ad of the year: Kendall Jenner quells social unrest and promotes harmony with Pepsi

  1. I see a lot of people trying very hard to be way too cool. Just join the diabetes generation. Empty calories and empty messages.

    1. Wait, I thought empty calories were good for you?!? I drink beer all day because people tell me it’s empty calories. Empty calories are calories that are empty and can’t make you fat…right?

      Have I been doing this wrong the whole time?!?

  2. Are you sure that commercial wasn’t created by the Seinfeld show? It was about nothing coherent.

  3. Protesting is apparently the new vogue for attractive young people.

    Marketing: What are young people doing today?
    Pollsters: Protesting things, and there’s a lot on the internet about hijabs.
    Marketing: Great, get some models together and make a commercial out of it. Make it a really long one too.

  4. This is finally something that brought the far left and right together. They all hate the ad!

    Pepsi actually brought harmony to two disparate groups constantly at odds with each other. Mission Accomplished! :Rolls out banner on aircraft carrier:

  5. Give Pepsi a chance. If only Lennon knew how to write songs 😊.

    If I approached a police man at a protest I would be tased. If I was a hot model in Calvin Klein I might stand a chance. I think there is some meaning to the ad.

  6. I tried to give a sh*t about Jenner, Pepsi, or the faux outrage about the dumb commercial, but I couldn’t. Besides, I already gave at the office.

    1. Pretty much my feelings too, but we appear to be in the minority. For some reason, xkcd 774 keeps coming to mind more and more these days: “Well, the important thing is that you’ve found a way to feel superior…”

  7. More money than neurons; lol! PCC, you and Sam Harris should form a comedy duo!

    Also, it’d be pretty funny if all that’s needed to end the Syrian Civil War is to give Assad a Pepsi.

  8. ‘d like to give the world a hug and tell it jokes and stuff.
    Then pull its pants down to its knees and chase it through the rough.
    I’d tie it up with bonds and straps and check its purse for change.
    Then leave it out at Moose Grin Hall with our cousin who’s deranged.

    — 1973 National Lampoon Subscription Ad

  9. Jeez, I couldn’t see anything wrong with it. Not sure what the hijab girl was up to exactly but it didn’t seem to be knocking her.

    It might be a bit of a dumb ad but no dumber than every other soft-drink commercial in the last 50 years. Yeah, soppy and stupid but aren’t they all?

    Why does everybody who’s ever had a protest march think they own the copyright on protests?

    I shall continue to drink Pepsi (not least because it’s cheaper than Coke and also because I’ve been boycotting Coke ever since they got the franchise for the last Rugby World Cup and all other soft drinks were banned from being sold near the venue, which I consider is truly objectionable).

    To address PCC’s point directly:
    “While Israel and Palestine battle it out, Assad drops chemical weapons on his own people, and North Korea fires yet another missile, the last thing we need is what one reader described as “mindless, relentless, hortatory pablum.”
    – Well yes, but based on that you’d have to ban *all* advertising. Every single ad. Which might be a damn good idea, come to that.


    1. My problem with the ad is that it trivializes something as important as a protest march, whether you agree with its goals or not. A can of soda will not make protestors suddenly start smiling, all their issues instantly resolved. Perhaps Pepsi thought they could contribute to solving the world’s problems by selling their beverage. Apparently, the marketers and the Pepsi executives who approved the ad live in a cocoon of ignorance.

      1. “Perhaps Pepsi thought they could contribute to solving the world’s problems by selling their beverage.”

        I think it’s more that they’ve seen how successfully other corporations have corporatized social justice movements (think the new Ghostbusters movie and how seeing it suddenly became a feminist statement, instead of just paying money to see a crappy reboot).

      2. I agree that it trivialises protest marches, though inadvertently (Pepsi weren’t trying to make fun of protest marches). I suppose making the goals of the depicted march ‘non-specific’ couldn’t help but water-down any message, but then, in an ad, they could hardly do otherwise.

        I’d argue that protest marches are part of the environment, and using them in an ad no more trivialises marches, than setting a scene in a hospital trivialises sick people, or depicting cops in ads trivialises the police force. (Or ‘scientists’ in white coats etc etc…)

        In recent posts there’s been considerable argument that various ‘snowflakes’, by their over-reaction to trivial insults, cause genuine protests to get lost in the noise. I think this could be more of the same.


    2. Yeah, stupid it is; but so what ?

      And +1 cuz I concur with, infiniteimprobabilit, everything else you have stated here. Especially .all. advertisement – banning cuz the gassing of kiddos vexes / offends / is loathsome to me no end. Unlike this Pepsi deal.

      Destroyed, and the destroying of, children ought to be the remonstratory deal.


    3. If this comment is directed at the proprietor, it’s rude (I have been in protest marches).

      Why does everybody who’s ever had a protest march think they own the copyright on protests?

      Are you saying that people who protested have no right to criticize the commercial at all?

      1. No, it certainly wasn’t directed at PCC (and I’ve been in a few protest marches myself). Apologies if it appeared like that.

        Protest marches are – part of the environment. Of course people who have been on one are entitled to criticise (as are people who haven’t). I just don’t think they’re entitled to assume that such a generic ad was aimed at their particular march.

        Iesha Evans was being handcuffed by cops in full riot gear. Kendall Jenner was handing a Coke – oops, Pepsi – to a not-very-hostile cop in regular uniform. I don’t think the two scenes are similar enough to equate the two.


        1. To me, the two pictures are very similar. Both look false. Kendall looks false because she is acting, and Iesha looks false because her dress is absurdly inappropriate for a protest march but excellent for a photo.

      2. Just so you buy IM’s response, I also did not see anything remotely rude or directed at you in the post (except and only when he addressed a specific point of yours at the end of his/her comment, which still wasn’t ruse).

        I completely understand your rules and zeal to enforce them. It must be incredibly tiring running not only an atheist blog, but an evolution and anti-regressive blod. Still, at least with your regular users (like IM here), maybe you could give the benefit of the doubt first and just ask instead of accusing.

        We all love you for you and the work you do, Jerry (and associates)!

        1. Thanks for the support, BJ, but (in the absence of anything back from Jerry) I assume he’s accepted my explanation.

          Reading my initial comment again, I do see how my third sentence could be taken as an oblique reference to Jerry’s post, but it certainly wasn’t intended that way, the fact that he’s been on marches didn’t even cross my mind at the time.


    4. I don’t see the brouhaha about “trivializing protest”. It’s an ad. I’ve been in protests myself, including one that toppled our country’s president (scary but exhilarating at the same time). Those of us on the left are more likely to hold principled positions and join protests.

      I also don’t believe in having sacred cows (religious or political), and no matter how important political and social protests are in fostering social progress, I just don’t see why it can’t also be appropriated into pop culture.

      Some people are just too hypersensitive.

  10. There is more than a little irony in the HuffPo subtitle reading “A headscarf is not a prop.” Really? Do tell.

  11. Okay, other than being mind-numbingly stupid, i don’t see anything to be offended by here.

    I suppose you could take exception to the trivializing of people protesting for or against something. Protest isn’t a celebration or a party, it’s what people do when they feel they have no other recourse other than to express their collective discontent in public.

    Who really cares how soft drink companies choose to sell their sugar laden non foods? I can understand ridiculing this commercial…I couldn’t imagine being offended by it.

  12. “Although Pepsi has removed the ad, this kind appropriation of a Muslim woman’s image is not new and not likely to go away soon.”

    The add is dumb no doubt, but can you imagine anyone saying something this silly about a white man featured in an add? Do I get to claim appropriation the next time a major consumer brand features someone vaguely in my demographic in a commercial? The rub is that if they didn’t signal a Kumbaya muslim presence we would be hearing how advertisers are racists who don’t see minorities as real Americans worthy of being hawked to.

    1. And how do you appropriate the image a person who is either a paid actor or signed a consent form to be in the commercial?

    2. Only too true.

      There is no way you can win once the purity-testers are on your case. One way or another, you *will* be guilty, either of commission or omission. (Or, to put it another way, either of ‘appropriation’ or ‘discriminatory exclusion’).


      1. We aim to please.
        Which is a comment I should try to work into the Texas Jerk-Off Bill thread.

  13. What about ads that actually stick their neck out on social issues? Ever see one! Here are two versions of an anti-racist beer add from Brazil (there are no subtitles so I have provided a rough translation below). Imagine, if you can, some advertiser putting an equivalent ad on US television. BTW, the product is Brazil’s most popular beer brand.

    Clip: Verão Skol, Viva a Diferença
    (take the ‘dot’ out of ‘youtube’)

    “Color . . .
    It’s out that something’s going to be big this summer.
    Know what color is the rage?
    All of us, OH!
    What color are you and I inside? People color; or the color of a burro when it’s running away?
    No one is different from anyone else; at the same time, no one is exactly the same.
    This is the only trend this summer is Be Colorful.
    A spectacular explosion of beautiful colors.
    Prejudice? No one wants to see, not even disguised.
    Skol Summer – Round is leaving your Squareness.
    If you drink, don’t drive.”

  14. I found it a tedious, padded-out ad with awful music, ending in a tepid payoff, and for that reason I’m glad I’m not going to actually have to see it again, in cinemas or any other place I’d normally encounter advertising.

    But I have to also admit I’m with those who can’t see the slightest thing offensive about it. It uses an old-as-the-hills advertising cliché harmless in all its other guises and equally harmless in this one: people engaged in some activity about which people are usually earnest or whole-hearted, distracted from that activity by the awesome power of [product]. I’ve seen this done in the past with every activity from welding to mafioso strong-arming. Apart from this ad taking two and a half minutes and being boring as batshit, I don’t really see what’s different this time.

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