Pepsi and Kendall Jenner have been publicizing their new partnership naming Kendall as the new spokesperson for the brand. However, immediately after the first commercial was released on Tuesday, April 4th, it received backlash on social and traditional media. Pepsi’s choice of topic and how it was executed was a failed attempt at focusing on a younger demographic.
The video portrays Kendall interrupting her high fashion photo shoot and joining a large group of peaceful protesters passing in the street. The scene that sparked the controversy is when Kendall approaches a police officer, offering him a can of Pepsi, which is followed by loud cheering and applauding from the crowd.
CNN reported the commercial was quickly accused of “appropriating the Black Lives Matter movement and using social justice to sell soda.”
Many commenters noted that the image of the final scene is said to copy the widely circulated photo of protester Ieshia Evans in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in July 2016. Social media erupted with calls by users to boycott all Pepsi products until an apology is issued:
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) April 5, 2017
— Megan (@megan6786) April 5, 2017
By tapping into social issues, Pepsi tried to be relevant in today’s culture, but instead appeared to be making light of a very sensitive subject.
In response to the backlash, Pepsi has since removed the ad from circulation and issued an apology to the public and to Kendall for putting her in that position. “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout,” the company stated.
The latest controversy serves as a vivid reminder for all public relations experts and brand managers alike to be aware of how their messages may be received by the public they are trying to reach. Inserting your brand in the midst of a highly sensitive political or social issue may put it at the center of media attention, but it can also expose it to criticism that can negatively affect its reputation.