The Power of Platforms: Pepsi pulls their horrible ad after one day

If anyone has been taking to Twitter for a break from the stress of final essays like I have, the latest viral sensation would have been impossible to miss. Pepsi released an advertisement which has been the centre of much controversy. The ad is essentially set at a protest, occasionally showing a bit of background of the people involved in the march. The cause is ambiguous; signs read “peace,” “love,” and “join the conversation”. Some of the backlash Pepsi has faced is directed at the co-opting of activist images and movements — at a time of civic unrest when actual activists are advocating for equality as marginalized groups face further oppression — for corporate gain.

The commercial is insensitive and inappropriate in a number of ways, but the ad’s conclusion is possibly the most controversial aspect. Kendall Jenner — the ad’s protagonist — decides to join the protest despite being in the middle of a photoshoot when she sees the march! Whatever social injustice the protest is addressing is rectified when Jenner approaches the happy-go-lucky and excited frontline of the protest to hand a police officer a Pepsi. The officer looks at his squad and smiles and nods; peace has been restored. Of course, this makes a mockery of the experiences of actual protesters and advocates who have been arrested, assaulted, pepper sprayed, and otherwise. There are identity politics at work here; Kendall, as a thin, wealthy, white woman can apparently be comfortable with approaching police officers at a protest with a peace offering.

The backlash to this ad was abundant and rapid on Twitter. So rapid, in fact, that Pepsi issued an apology for “missing the mark” and pulled the ad less than 24 hours after it had been released. I know I post about this a lot but… this is an excellent example of the power of platforms! Twitter’s affordances allowed for the ad to go viral and the public to display their disapproval immediately and on a massive scale. I don’t want to be too utopian but I think this demonstrates how technology can be used to renegotiate power relationships.

While some of the criticism was simply words in response to Pepsi’s tweet, I believe part of the reason the video gained so much attention was the appropriation and remixing of Pepsi’s ad and historical images to critique the commercial. The images were shared as memes which carried political messages. The images are funny, evocative, and critical — I think they serve as a good example of ways in which ‘culture jamming’ continues to manifest itself online and result in corporate response.

Here are some examples of the tweets and images that went viral in response to the Pepsi ad:

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2 Comments

  1. Interesting post, Alannah. Another criticism I have of the ad is that it straight up looks like the original concept for the ad was a street party that Kendall felt like joining, and then some “clever” ad exec was like “wait…. you know what’s similar to parties, and also really in right now? Protests!!!”

    This is also an example of the way that practice has been networked into advertising. This is not the first example of a brand taking advantage of a social movement – aerie and dove have capitalized on the body positivity movement, cigarette companies capitalized on the first wave feminist movement by marketing cigarettes as the empowered woman’s vice, in fact, a skinny cigarette was invented just for women!

    Your post and this ad reminds me of the Peters reading, we can’t get caught up thinking that this ad is anything new, we have to criticize the network it belongs to – this is just a remediation of companies cashing in on social movements

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you guys for giving me a good laugh in a moment where laughing is much needed and appreciated. I don’t have Twitter so unfortunately I did not get to see the outcry on that social media platform, however I did get to enjoy it on Instagram where users had posted screenshots from Tumblr and Twitter. I think using Kendall Jenner as a representative in this scenario is idolizing her as an advocate for equality and change, which is difficult to accept considering as you pointed out, she is a wealthy, Caucasian, socialite. Pepsi is asserting her as an authority and essentially granting her power in a situation that I personally do not thing is appropriate. I was more so impressed and almost shocked at how fast social media platforms responded to this advertisement (I only learned about it through Instagram).

    Liked by 1 person

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