Pepsi is clearly the inferior of the two great soft drink monoliths—anyone who says differently is probably trying to sell you Pepsi—and that holds true both as a matter of taste and political presentation. Years ago Coke ran an ad featuring “young people from all over the world” hanging out “on a hilltop in Italy,” singing a goofball hippie song and declaring that Coca-Cola is “the real thing.” For my money there’s no better melding of doofy young hippie culture with corporate avarice. Unfortunately for its bottom line, Pepsi found out that it’s just not that easy to pull off:
Pepsi has apologized for a controversial advertisement that borrowed imagery from the Black Lives Matter movement, after a day of intense criticism from people who said it trivialized the widespread protests against the killings of black people by the police.
“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday. “We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout.”
The ad, posted to YouTube on Tuesday, shows attractive young people holding milquetoast signs with nonspecific pleas like “Join the conversation.” The protesters are uniformly smiling, laughing, clapping, hugging and high-fiving.
In the ad’s climactic scene, a police officer accepts a can of Pepsi from Kendall Jenner, a white woman, setting off raucous approval from the protesters and an appreciative grin from the officer…
In torrid criticism after the ad was posted, commentators on social media accused Pepsi of appropriating imagery from serious protests to sell its product, while minimizing the danger protesters encounter and the frustration they feel.
It is a rich, syrupy-sweet irony that a commercial asking people to “join the conversation” was yanked from the airwaves due to “torrid criticism.” It’s hard to imagine a more perfect distillation of liberal protest culture these days than the phrase “join the conversation” being met with a rousing chorus of “SHUT THE HELL UP.”
In a sense this is understandable: Pepsi’s ad was stupid, banal, dewy-eyed, awkward cross-generational corporate rapping. It was bound to fail. But in another sense there is something of an injustice at work. Pepsi’s representation of a protest—a group of fist-pumping, overexcited, sign-toting art majors squaring off against police officers for no real discernible reason whatsoever—was in fact an excellent summation of the modern progressive protest ethic, beset as it is by Selma envy: protesting these days is less about accomplishing anything of meaning and more about just protesting for protesting’s sake. Think of the March on Washington, which arguably had a real and measurable impact on the direction of civil rights in this country; now think about the Occupy Wall Street movement, in which a bunch of people got together, slept in parks for a while, and then left. Which one was a movement of consequence? Which one was an excuse to skip work for a few days and smoke weed?
The real reason Pepsi pulled the ad is because, when it comes to social-justice-minded Millennials, as my colleague Bre Payton puts it, “nothing makes them happy.” Liberalism today, particularly young liberalism, is generally an ideology of reaction, not proaction, or at least it finds its most potent fulfillment in the former, not the latter: it’s more fun for liberals to get angry at a soda advertisement than it is for them to actually do any productive, effective activity. Mounting a practical, society-changing protest or social movement is hard; getting angry and indignant at a crappy soft drink company and talking about the virtues of “bold action” is much, much easier.
Some people took creative approaches to voicing their useless discontent:
Madonna couldn’t help but take a sly swipe at Pepsi after their controversial ad featuring Kendall Jenner was pulled on Wednesday, April 5.
The outspoken star, who had a beef with the brand in the past, threw shade at the soft drink giants by posting a throwback photo of her carrying a can of their rival Coca-Cola.
Madonna, you’ll recall, is the gal who a few months ago expressed a desire to blow up the White House. So a singer who advocated domestic terrorism is upset about an advertisement promoting peace between the people and the state. How exactly is this news?