My answer to a commenter in the New York Times who was offended that Black people were offended by this ad and could not for the life of him understand why:
The problem with this ad is that there is total cognitive dissonance between the situation it depicts, some sort of defanged political protest, with the product it shills, which is sugary brown water with bubbles. So even if you cannot possibly conceive how some people may think that this idiotic ad trivializes history, the ad is a disaster because a Pepsi cannot ever do what the ad claims it can. A Pepsi cannot have a starring role in a political protest unless it's a molotov cocktail...The ad is completely divorced from reality. It's the idiotic trivialization of our moment in time, in which people are compelled to protest about seriously important issues. Its inappropriate borrowing of civil rights imagery also trivializes a very serious fight for justice that still continues.
This tweet from the daughter of Martin Luther King about sums it up:
Yet the marketing geniuses at Pepsi, in their world of consumer research and data points and whatnot, decided to use the moment to tell the wrong story. This is what I think went down:
Marketing person 1: Our research shows millennials are independent and they like to protest.
Marketing person 2: Celebrities have always worked for Pepsi.
Marketing person 3: Kendall Jenner is a millennial and a celebrity.
Marketing team: Bingo!
A Frankenstein is born.
I define advertising as the translation of marketing into human terms. The problem with marketing is that it thinks it is about people but it isn't. It's about consumers, people who are categorized exclusively by what they buy. Marketing puts consumers into social, economic and educational brackets. There could have been diverse people in the team responsible for this disastrous ad but apparently unlike this SNL spoof, nobody thought to check with a real human. Professional focus group goers don't count. They get $50 bucks and an endless supply of soda, M&Ms and mini-pretzels, and for this reason, everything they say comes out of their ass. That companies don't yet realize this never ceases to amaze me.
As for the execution, the ad is a parade of wrongness. From frame one, everything is wrong. Starting with this anemic Kardashian taking off a blonde wig and smearing her lipstick away before she confronts the police. This is wrong on so many levels, I think I need someone in the order of Slavoj Zizek to explain it to me. Wrong spokesperson, wrong gesture, wrong situation, starring a beverage that was not really designed to either bring about world peace or neutralize the police.
We have stonewashed denim circa 1980, because someone thinks this is cool. If you notice, everyone is wearing blue, Pepsi's brand color. I would not be surprised if the color red was verboten on set, because that is the color of you-know-who.
Then we have the fake Muslim female photographer, the faux-edgy Black guy with the cornrows, the Asian cello player, the inane protest signs that read "join the conversation". Everybody looks like they've come out from an audition for the Mickey Mouse Club (for people of color). They are so scrubbed of personality, they must be representing the working class of Stepford, Connecticut. Don't get me started with the police, who seem to be armed to the gills with walkie talkies.
There are always people who feel superior to the people who like to discuss tone deaf commercials or movies, like that commenter in the New York Times and sundry self-appointed Cassandras on social media. These people always claim that "it is only a movie" or "only a commercial". They like to point out how superficial we are by reminding us that there are worse atrocities in the world that, according to them, no one talks about. Well, they are wrong. We all know that the world is full of suffering, and we are all dismayed. I don't see them joining the White Helmets. But this doesn't make it less important for people to discuss pop culture phenomena, particularly when it generates such a vociferous response. Why shush the debate? Just because it comes from entertainment? Entertainment can be a pretty ruthless mirror to ourselves. The outcry is important because it shows us who we are and what is going on in our society. We don't all have to agree, but it's good to talk about it. People who pooh-pooh these discussions by flaunting their moral superiority actually undermine what the debate is all about.