[By Tyler Murphy]

Chalk it up to my own education or a complete lack of corporate awareness, since entering the PRCC program at Sheridan College it seems that companies are finding themselves in hot water more frequently than any time over the past decade. PepsiCo, one of the global leaders in soda sales, recently aired a controversial commercial which led to international criticism and the pulling of the ad just a few days after airing.

Transparently targeting millennials, a strategy reminiscent of the Pepsi Generation campaign from the 1980s, the commercial begins with inoffensive artistic imagery of a hard-working musician toiling over his craft. For the first seven seconds everything feels fine, then in an instant, it all goes awry.

Sporting signs of love, peace and “join the conversation”, marching millennials take the street, moving as one towards an unseen destination. Reality TV and social media star Kendall Jenner joins the crowd and marches along. While it feels inauthentic, her presence itself is not an issue; rather a blatant celebrity draw which most corporations use in marketing.

To this point none of these elements are offensive on their own, we are a generation that increasingly values diversity, equality and inclusiveness. Where the ad commits its greatest folly is in the imagery of Kendall approaching a police line, cool, refreshing Pepsi in hand, and presenting it to a police officer. Queue celebrations from the crowd, for Pepsi has saved the day. Pepsi is the cola of peace. Pepsi has patently spat in the face of movements such as Black Lives Matter and the 2017 Women’s March in one fell swoop.

The commercial has turned into internet meme and Twitter fodder which makes any corporation look bad. The reactions range from angry to humorous, but the underlying tone is clear; the ad was nothing short of inflammatory and poorly executed. Initially refusing to back down, Pepsi later issued an apology for the offence, and catching the young Jenner in the crossfire.

“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. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.” – Pepsi

Pepsi’s recent failure, and the failures of so many other companies, calls to mind the old adage, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness, than to ask for permission.” Unfortunately for Pepsi, this does not apply when it comes to using imagery reminiscent of important social justice movements to hawk sugary cola.

(Illustration by Tyler Murphy)