Pepsi feigns social justice concerns

Pepsi’s unabashed exploitation of emotions has caught the soda company in a sticky situation.

Pepsi recently launched its “Live For Now Moments Anthem” advertisement on television in all its splendor. Critics regard the commercial as a daring feat that aims to take advantage of teens and adults in their 20s who make up the technology market today.

The soda company, using Kendall Jenner, evoked the spirit of the youth market by tapping into a platform to digitally exploit youths who are heavily dependent on smartphones and social media.

Pepsi may have thought that, with the release of this commercial, it had an edge on its rival Coca Cola in a never-ending war to determine which of the two mighty brands would globally dominate the soda market. The commercial tried to cash in on Jenner’s name recognition. As a mannequin, her face has graced ads in upscale fashion magazines such as Vogue in New York, Paris and Tokyo.

Jenner has the allure of wealth, youthful freshness and coolness that made her the right spokeswoman for Pepsi. Coca Cola uses Omnicom, the world’s largest advertising and telecommunications group. Pepsi decided to use its own in-house group—The Creative League Studio— for the ad, according to Advertising Age.

When Pepsi rolled out “Live For Now Moments Anthem,” on April 3, it was met with a sea of angry protest. Pepsi pulled the ad, but not before it was mocked both on social media and late-night television.

The ad focused on a controlled protest consisting of teens and 20-somethings in attendance, bathed in the glow of a sun-filled afternoon. The creators of the ad had chosen an impressive range of actors, all beautiful, in all colors and shades. A woman photographer with a nose ring, wearing a hijab was featured, for example.

The ad showed a joyous lot brandishing anodyne posters calling for peace.

The reactions on social media show that today’s youth still recognize their ancestors’ sacrifices in the anti-nuclear protests of the 1950s.

The ad features a version of breakdancing, the plaintive chords of a cello along with the riff of hip hop energize this swelling and heaving sea of beautiful youth marching past a film shoot. In this scene, Jenner is sheathed in a silver gown, wearing a blond wig, heavy makeup and very red lipstick while she languidly and lazily poses.

A young man of Asian descent with a cello on his back catches her eye. Abandoning her haughtiness of a mannequin, she rubs off her ruby-red lipstick, rips off her wig and gleefully joins the demonstration. In the closing scene, Jenner is in a T-shirt and jeans, making her way through the protest with a can of Pepsi in her hand. She breaks through the line of marchers to approach unsmiling policemen, as youthful as the display of marchers.

In a grand gesture, she offers the Pepsi to one of the cops, who drinks it with abandon. The crowd cheers and the ad ends with the giant red and blue Pepsi symbol calling upon all to speak loudly and live for now.

This moralizing, hypocritical and naively optimistic message of peace, understanding and unity that Pepsi tried to transmit worldwide became submerged in a tidal wave of protest. Opponents to the ad accused Pepsi of trivializing the “Black Lives Matter” movement and portraying the police as benign guardians of peace. The ad, according to opponents, has the power to render toothless the polarizing politics of the moment.

In its desire to beat its rival and gain market share and consumer loyalty, Pepsi released an awkward and ingenuous ad that immediately revealed its misreading of the temper of the time.

It is no wonder Pepsi stopped the rollout. Yet, its public relations department will not admit that the ad should be scrapped for good. Pepsi still harbors the illusion that the company has its finger on the global pulse of the youth market.