'The memes are devastating': Why Pepsi's Kendall Jenner ad failed so spectacularly
Elahe Izadi isn't so sure the old adage "any publicity is good publicity" applies to the short-lived and widely panned Pepsi protest ad starring Kendall Jenner.
"With a lot of companies, it's great news if everyone's talking about your advertisement, even if it stokes some controversy, but I have had trouble finding anyone who actually found this to be a good advertisement, and the memes are devastating — they're hilarious," Izadi told As It Happens host Carol Off.
The "Live for Now Moments" video released Tuesday shows the Keeping Up With the Kardashians star stepping away from a modeling shoot to join a crowd of smiling, diverse and youthful protesters.
She hands a can of Pepsi to a stern-faced police officer, who takes a sip, causing the demonstrators to erupt into cheers and applause.
It was almost immediately mocked and criticized for appearing to trivialize police violence and protests for social justice causes.
This new <a href="https://twitter.com/pepsi">@pepsi</a> ad has me puzzled... Did <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/EricGarner?src=hash">#EricGarner</a> choke drinkin a can of soda?? Did <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TrayvonMartin?src=hash">#TrayvonMartin</a> even get to drink the soda he bought??—@CyrusMMcQueen
When she thinks the can of Pepsi is going to stop you from pepper spraying the nearest person of color <a href="https://t.co/XMDfg8s02G">pic.twitter.com/XMDfg8s02G</a>—@_Zeets
"A lot of these big companies, they're trying to portray an image that they're standing for something, that they're bold, that they're courageous and so I can see how the idea of utilizing some of the imagery around protest movements or something could kind of come up in a meeting," Izadi said.
"But it comes in a very tricky, dangerous territory when it's just very ambiguous, you're not actually standing for anything and it can very quickly devolve into, and what we saw, is appropriating social justice movement imagery to sell a product. "
Pepsi initially defended the ad, describing it as featuring "multiple lives, stories and emotional connections that show passion, joy, unbound and uninhibited moments. No matter the occasion, big or small, these are the moments that make us feel alive."
But the very next day, the company pulled it and apologized — both to the public at large, and to Jenner, specifically.
"Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding," the company said in a statement. "Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize."
Many noted similarities between the image of Jenner handing the officer a Pepsi and the iconic photograph of Black Lives Matter protester Ieshia Evans approaching an officer at a demonstration in Baton Rouge last year.
the new <a href="https://twitter.com/pepsi">@Pepsi</a> ad evoking imagery of <a href="https://twitter.com/IeshiaEvans">@IeshiaEvans</a> in Baton Rouge is total exploitative brand social activism bs 👋🏼 <a href="https://t.co/YzAFtWEzDO">pic.twitter.com/YzAFtWEzDO</a>—@slchen_
Among those mocking the ad was Bernice King, who tweeted a photo of her father, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., being confronted by a police officer at a protest march.
If only Daddy would have known about the power of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Pepsi?src=hash">#Pepsi</a>. <a href="https://t.co/FA6JPrY72V">pic.twitter.com/FA6JPrY72V</a>—@BerniceKing
"So you even have people at that level tweeting out these photos, making memes out of this," Izadi said. "I mean it's just total mockery, totally doesn't portray Pepsi as cool or fun or innovative or daring at all, but just as kinda tone deaf."
She noted the ad is not only a major flub for Pepsi, but also reflects poorly on Jenner and her personal brand.
"It is remarkable how quickly the company backed down from this ad. I think it underscores how poorly executed it was," she said.
"I mean, it's not like just one person made this. A lot of people were involved so I'm sure there are gonna be some tough conversations had."
"Now just wait one second officers.<br><br>I have a Pepsi." <a href="https://t.co/NW0sddKOOI">pic.twitter.com/NW0sddKOOI</a>—@Phil_Lewis_
TFW your ad team wasn't involved in the Pepsi ad. <a href="https://t.co/eZRgkYBS8X">pic.twitter.com/eZRgkYBS8X</a>—@joshvisser
Pepsi: We've done it. We've created the most tone-deaf ad of the week. Maybe the year!<br>Nivea: Hold my beer. <a href="https://t.co/jdNfdvqjOg">pic.twitter.com/jdNfdvqjOg</a>—@4evrmalone
"This is officer Haynes; just saw a group of black boys. You guys up for a Pepsi? I think I can force about 4 cans from them" <a href="https://t.co/YATDgxLq5C">pic.twitter.com/YATDgxLq5C</a>—@Rejiaku
With files from Associated Press