Why that Pepsi ad isn’t as bad as you think it is

Pepsi's latest ad featuring Kendall Jenner bridging the gap between protesters and law enforcers is abysmal says Mammal's Luke Chess, but in this guest post he argues we've all missed the point.

Kendall Jenner and Skip Marley have come together to melt the internet, appearing in a much-derided spot produced by Pepsi’s in-house advertising studio, Creators League. Most of the criticism centres on its graphically unsubtle attempt to hijack genuine political expression to sell its product.

Indeed on my personal Facebook feed I noted: ‘I cannot conceive of a boardroom table around which this pile of excrement would have made sense. Abysmal advertising.’

I was reacting at a fundamental level. The idea that a multinational corporate can claim rights over expressions of dissent offended me. The decision to make the placards conform (and I use that word deliberately) to Pepsi corporate colours identifies precisely what protests are not about. Using a reality TV superstar to stand in place of genuine activists like Ieshia Evans left a taste in my mouth that no amount of Pepsi could wash away – were I ever to buy any again.

And there’s more. Just within my social media bubble, comments included:

– ‘They should send Kendall Jenner to Syria. Just her and a can of Pepsi. She’ll sort it out.’
– ‘The taste of a new, extremely narcissistic and hyper-image conscious, shallow, sub- generation.’
– ‘Protesting is the new brunch.’
– ‘Kardashians will save America!’

And the short but sweet
– ‘F###ing vacuous bulls###’

And yet.

What’s instructive – with me having arrived home in an ethically-fuelled lather and called it up on our largest screen for immediate family derision – was my kids’ reaction. Two people presumably far closer to the target audience than I am.

13 y.o. boy: “It’s okay I guess. The party looks fun, you know?”
15 y.o. girl: “I love Kendall Jenner. It has a nice vibe.”

I was, of course, mortified. I began talking about the commodification of dissent, the outrageousness of a global behemoth as a ventriloquist of the people, the fact that the whole thing is a heap of undiluted horse poop. But they would not be swayed, much.

13 y.o. boy: “Yeah, the product placement was pretty obvious I guess. They’re trying to say Pepsi is cool.”
15 y.o. girl: “I s’pose the protest signs look a bit fake.”

I couldn’t believe it. Even the dog hated it more than my kids did, and he eats his own vomit.

It was some hours later before the realisation hit me. My kids aren’t reading this as some kind of commentary on society. They’re not analysing it as an appropriation of genuine political expression by a dominant capitalist force.

No, they’re seeing it only and solely as an ad. As a piece by Pepsi that’s trying to make them feel something, to get noticed and maybe sell some carbonated beverages. And in that sense, it’s okay … but nothing special.

They’re able to peel back the layers of metaphor, interpretation and cultural context that I, and most of my colleagues, laid over it. They simply see it as an essentially meaningless piece of commercial communication.

And that – brought to you by Pepsi, as every lingering pack shot confirms – is precisely what it is.

Luke Chess, is a creative partner at Mammal


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