BY: NADIA ZAIDI
I can’t help but think twice before reaching for a can of Pepsi. At the risk of sounding dramatic, it isn’t exactly the current beverage of choice. In fact, it’s become a symbol of misguided advertising and social backlash.
It’s been days since 21-year-old model Kendall Jenner was featured in a global Pepsi ad, and the world still can’t stop talking, analyzing, wondering, and asking: how did a can of pop incite such responsive global discourse? More importantly – when did frivolity in advertising become acceptable in portraying contentious issues?
Any backlash invites a great deal of finger pointing. Jenner was the advertiser’s “prop” of choice, and should inevitably share some responsibility for the ad’s irresponsibility. Frankly, I don’t think an entitled 20-something who was born into a family of reality fame and controversy is to blame. This is not to give her a hall-pass, as we so often do with celebrities. There are various factors that absolve her from complete onus, but she must also reconcile with her lack of discretion. At a time when we can find out about anything with the swipe of our fingers, it’s hard to justify ignorance. In fact, it’s downright comical.
But using her as a measure of social conscientiousness is probably setting us up for a great deal of disappointment.
This piece isn’t about a reality star, or her lack of discretion. It’s about grappling with our feelings toward a trusted name, and learning to expect more from our messaging. It’s hard to rationalize the visionaries behind this ad and the room full of people who seemed to concede without asking pertinent questions.
The way ideas are translated from drawing room to edit suite often render powerhouse visions into weak, offensive statements, like this ad. We must understand that, certainly not with the expectation of excusing it.
The treatment of today’s messaging needs to be handled with sensitivity and ethics. It must meet basic criterions of integrity and knowledge, specifically if it is intended to rouse consciousness. We can’t expect much from a Pepsi commercial if its intention is solely rooted in product commodification. Companies and advertisers need to stick to their business and not intertwine social messaging to essentially serve their own agendas.
Yes, we are sensitive. Sometimes actions or words are trivial and aren’t cause for disruption, but given the open wounds of a world so divided by baseless difference, feelings are visceral.
Ask about the volatility of police – citizen relations to someone who rallied during the Vietnam protests. To innocent civilians in war torn communities whose grievances are silenced by tear gas. To the scared mother who protests at Black Lives Matters rallies only to be met with racial slurs.
A can of Pepsi isn’t a means to any peaceful end. It is assumptive, arrogant, and irresponsible to place power into its inanimate existence. It’s not just a commercial, it’s a statement that failed to resonate, or hit the mark. Our reactions tell us that there is more pain than unity, and that our world and its inhabitants are scared, confused, jaded. We are sensitive because we can’t afford to simply “let things slide.”
Maybe our problem with this ad isn’t about tasteless product placement that serves a greater business imperative under the pretence of social awareness. A lot can be done in the span of a commercial. Maybe we’re better off craving a drink than fuming over misconstructions.