Jayne: With tone-deaf Pepsi ad, pop go the important issues

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor



Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

Well, that took off with all the success of a North Korean missile launch.

Pepsi last week unveiled a commercial featuring Kendall Jenner that was so roundly mocked and derided and taunted that the company pulled it less than 24 hours later. That’s what happens when you minimize political movements by depicting protesters — people who typically have a bit of passion and rage — as simply a happy-go-lucky and culturally diverse bunch. That’s what happens when you suggest that if protesters simply hand a can of Pepsi to a police officer, then the world will be filled with rainbows and unicorns.

Yet while the effort was a woefully off-the-mark pitch to the peace, love, and understanding crowd, hilarity ensued. The internet quickly responded with sarcasm and wit, proving that Twitter is much more enjoyable when left in the hands of the clever and the creative.

Even Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, chimed in, posting a photo of her father being confronted by police as she wrote, “If only daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” Another tweet had a “statement” from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “We have placed a single can of Pepsi at the North Korean border. Their move.” That, we’re pretty sure, qualifies as fake news.

Now, we could have a serious discussion about the tone-deaf nature of the commercial. About the relationship between law enforcement and citizens. About the efficacy of Black Lives Matter and other protests and how it probably is not a good idea for a corporation to co-opt the nation’s angst for the purpose of selling … soft drinks.

It is difficult to remember an ad campaign so universally scorned, with conservatives criticizing what they view as the politically correct message and progressives complaining about how it diminished protests of things that are actually important. So, at least we can agree on something.

While those are meaningful critiques, there is another item that stands out about the spot. That something is the presence of Jenner, who happens to be part of the Kardashian clan that has spent the past decade collectively lowering the IQ of the nation and cultivating all of America’s most vapid and most haunting traits.

Oh, that assessment might not be fair. I don’t really know because I have never seen a minute of the family’s reality show — and, yes, that gives me a feeling of superiority. I know, I know, somebody must be watching it if the Kardashians have been culturally prominent for the past 10 years despite no discernible talent; somebody must think they are important if the family has built an inescapable media empire.

A socially aware generation

And yet it boggles the mind that there is an ad executive out there who thought that Kendall Jenner could be an effective symbol for a generation of people who, to their credit, are concerned about the world around them.

At least, that is my perception. As one who has a 19-year-old daughter, I have developed an unfettered confidence in the upcoming generation. Young people these days are more socially aware, more socially involved, more socially conscious than they were a generation ago or a generation before that.

This is a generation that has produced, for example, Emma Watson, who uses her fame and wealth to work on substantive matters of global importance. This is a generation that has produced Malala, who won a Nobel Peace Prize at 17.

Not that they could be bothered with starring in a commercial for Pepsi (although Watson has her share of endorsements), but the point is that using a member of the Kardashian clan exposes an ad-maker who has a cynical opinion of its target audience. You know, in case the racial insensitivity or the misguided cultural appropriation were not a big enough hint.

The young adults who were the target of the ad deserve better. Well, OK, so do the rest of us. Instead, Pepsi produced an ad that went off course and crashed into the ocean.