Pepsi’s New Kendall Jenner Commercial is a Tone-Deaf Catastrophe

Who is responsible for this?

Not since Cindy Crawford’s iconic 1992 Pepsi commercial has the soda giant tapped a supermodel to appear in its commercials—until now. Released in full today, the newest ad for Pepsi Max sees a platinum blonde Kendall Jenner joining some sort of protest in what is very clearly Pepsi’s clunky, two-and-a-half-minute attempt at being “woke.” 

To the tune of Skip Marley’s “Lions”—a track that feels lyrically similar to “Chained to the Rhythm,” his recent societal awareness banger with Katy Perry—the video begins with a visibly frustrated guy playing a cello on top of a roof while a large group of smiley, millennial-aged protesters takes to the streets. They’re holding up signs that say things like, “JOIN THE CONVERSATION” and “LOVE,” and if it weren’t for these boilerplate #resistance slogans, you could very well assume this was footage from Coachella. The blatant diversity of the crowd is painfully obvious, so much so that you can practically hear the casting agent saying, “I need ethnic and urban!” The next character is then introduced—she is a Muslim woman (or we’re meant to assume so, as she’s wearing a hijab) and she is doing something with a bunch of photos. She likes Pepsi. A stoic Jenner, for whatever reason, happens to be modeling nearby, when she suddenly notices the crowd of people passing through. She is intrigued. Cello guy quits playing his instrument to go see what this hippie love-fest is all about. Anyone got a joint? This looks fun. (Stay with me.)

Two girls are shown having brunch, because that’s what today’s youth is into. After the Muslim girl abruptly starts crumpling up her photos in a random fit of anger, she, too, notices the protest. It’s as if all three main characters—she, Jenner, and cello guy—have been bizarrely hypnotized by the movement happening in the streets. The Muslim girl grabs her camera and runs outside. Cello dude grabs his cello and slings it over his back. People are dancing. It’s a party. I mean, what else are you supposed to do when Planned Parenthood is on the brink of being federally defunded, the budget for the EPA is being enormously slashed, and our current president spends the majority of his time eating KFC and tweeting about Fox & Friends

Jenner, still fixated on the block party—sorry, I mean “protest”—locks eyes with newly woke cello boy, who in hindsight looks very much like someone you used to talk to on MySpace. He gives her a smile and a nod, encouraging her to join. Because a cute boy is the perfect reason to join a political movement, Jenner smiles back, dramatically ripping off her blonde wig and wiping off her lipstick. (Feminists don’t wear makeup, duh!) We’re shown more footage of smiling teens, all of whom I vaguely recall seeing at a warehouse party in Bushwick last weekend. Jenner grabs a cold can of Pepsi, makes eye contact with a hot cop, and hands him the soda. He drinks it, because she is a Kardashian. Everyone cheers, hugs, and high-fives each other. Police brutality is solved. It’s apparent that this scene was an attempt to recreate the heavily circulated photo of Black Lives Matter protestor Ieshia Evans calmly facing off against police officers in Baton Rouge, but the mark was very much missed here. Who knew all Alton Sterling had to do was hand the cop a Pepsi? 

The beverage corp’s feeble effort to be relevant and politically sound is so far off-base it recalled the recent Saturday Night Live Cheetos skit, in which a transgender Chester was pitched by out-of-touch executives as a way to be progressive. (Ironically, PepsiCo is Cheetos’ parent company—are the SNL writers psychic? Probably.) In that same vein, Pepsi’s lame gesture also felt nauseatingly similar to the way some brands are co-opting political movements as of late, capitalizing on sexy hashtags and zeroing in on feminism so hard, Betty Friedan must have rolled over in her grave a hundred times by now. It all feels shady, and frankly gross. As we mentioned last month, when it comes to advertising, there’s a fine line between empowerment and exploitation, particularly when it involves something as societally vital as activism. As evidenced in Pepsi’s commercial, where that line must be drawn is eons away from being figured out—by ad execs, at least.

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