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The problem with Pepsi's appropriation of protest

Francine Crimmins |  09 April 2017


A man on a rooftop is seen playing a cello but the soundtrack features the strumming of a guitar. People on the street below march in an orderly fashion carrying signs saying nothing remotely risky — 'Join the conversation' and peace signs drawn in Pepsi blue.

Kendall Jenner hands Pepsi to police officerSit back, this is two minutes and 40 seconds of your life you'll wish you could take back.

Kendall Jenner appears to save the day for the protesters when she emerges from her nearby photo shoot, pulling off an expensive gown in exchange for a 'casual' $238 denim jacket.

Now that she looks like the commoners she can walk ahead of them until she approaches the police blocking the protest. Tensions are apparently high, but the crowd erupts into celebration as the cop takes the offering of Pepsi from the celebrity saviour.

Pepsi's new 'short film' advertisement has been widely accused of appropriating the struggle for race and gender equality in the name of its product. It makes sugar filled drinks seem like the key to stopping police brutality against people of colour. It also simplifies the way people engage and make change in the world.

Activism is often led and participated in by the most vulnerable people in our community. Often minorities aren't heard in conventional ways and have no choice but to express political opinions on the streets. These vulnerable people often include women, people of colour and the LGBTIQ community.

Having a corporation such as Pepsi cash in on these experiences for consumerism seems contradictory to the idea of protesting, and commercialising these real struggles can devalue them.

This hurt and offence was echoed on Twitter and YouTube with the video, at the time of writing, having received over 15,000 thumbs down compared to just 3000 likes. Pepsi trended on Twitter for the first 24 hours after the ad was launched; over 50 per cent was negative feedback.


"Perhaps Pepsi got more views on their advertisement than they would have if it wasn't offensive. Regardless, it seems more than likely that they tried to access consumers by seeming like an ethical brand."


Before long, memes started to circulate, such as a photo of Martin Luther King Jr with a Pepsi edited into his hand and the caption 'I have a Pepsi'.

Perhaps Pepsi got more views on their advertisement than they would have if it wasn't offensive. Regardless, it seems more than likely that they tried to access consumers by seeming like an ethical brand. They did so in a way which erased the importance of real struggle, perhaps even through the casting of multi-millionaire Jenner.

Jenner approaching the police has been compared to the real-life actions of Black Lives Matter protestor Leshia Evans. While Jenner manages to strike up a friendship through cola, Evans was thrown to the ground by officers when she dared to approach them.

Brands are inescapable in our world, though they shouldn't be representative of it. Pepsi shouldn't be claiming the narrative of people whose livelihoods can be enriched or changed through political protests. While it would be nice to think Jenner could in fact diffuse violence through the modern olive branch which is apparently Pepsi, depictions such as these are often setbacks in the real struggles experienced by people around the world.


Francine CrimminsFrancine Crimmins is studying a double degree of Journalism and Creative Intelligence & Innovation at the University of Technology Sydney. She is on twitter as @frankiecrimmins. Francine is the recipient of Eureka Street's Margaret Dooley Fellowship for Young Writers.



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Submitted comments

Brilliant! More free advertising for Pepsi! The real problem is not Pepsi or with any other provocative - the problem is we choose to be outraged and offended, and then by not following the PC bandwagon, those who aren't offended are branded insensitive or racist. Does anyone realise there's a famine right now in the horn of Africa?

AURELIUS 10 April 2017

So none of Australia's ES readers have anything to say about this Pepsi ad/ I fell guilty knowing that no-one cared enough to rebutt my un-Pc comment.

AURELIUS 12 April 2017

Thank you for sensible discussion. I'm so glad I found this. Soooo much better than fake news or general (off the subject) arguments about politicians!

Anne H. Holt 18 April 2017

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