Soda ad trivializes social justice

Adria Watson

What do you get when Kendall Jenner approaches armed police officers with a can of Pepsi during a peaceful protest?

Not an officer mistaking her fizzy drink as a gun and proceeding to shoot her with rubber bullets and bean bags nor do you see protesters in the background being tear gassed or pepper sprayed.

What you would instead see, in the now taken down “progressive” Pepsi advertisement, is what most people of color protesting for their rights and standing up against injustices won’t get: smiling civility.

When the ad first aired, much of social media expressed their dismay with Pepsi for not only inaccurately showcasing police response when they’re present at protests, but also making it easy for a white woman be liberated at a protest when it is nowhere near that simple for her black counterparts.

If only this entire time it would have have been expressed to protesters that all they needed was a nice cold can of pop.

The Ferguson protests would probably have received less news coverage than it did. Better yet, police probably would have welcomed them with open arms just as they did for women at the Women’s March rather than tear gas.

Most of us have seen or learned that, historically, people of color fall victim to police brutality.

But after Michael Brown’s death in 2014 sparked this generation’s outcry for justice for black lives, that awareness became more prevalent not only across social media but in conversations people were starting to have.

This leads me to question how no one in the meeting for that simple-minded commercial, realized gentrifying protests was a horrible idea?

It came off as trivializing and glamorizing real experiences people of color go through when protesting.

Marginalized groups aren’t out in the streets, risking their lives protesting to remind the world they have the right to water, their land, their bodies or their lives so they can get cool points or a nice photo-op for Instagram.

Bernice King — daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King — said it best in an article she wrote about the problematic content of the ad for The Huffington Post.  

“Some may say ‘It’s just a commercial.’ I say that the ad and the responses to it reflect deep issues around race, privilege and how we build the Beloved Community post-slavery and Jim Crow,” said King. “We cannot ignore that we are currently grappling with gross injustice and inhumanity.”

It could be easy for people who are not out there on the frontlines of protests for movements like Black Lives Matter to minimize those experiences by saying people are being dramatic about the ad, especially if these are the same people who refuse to listen to said protesters’ realities — that commercial definitely being far from it.

In the apology statement released April 5, PepsiCo said they were “trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding,” noting that they clearly missed that message and did not intend to make light of serious issues.

But what they — and all advertising companies — should be taking away from this is to hire more people of color. Talk and listen to community leaders and activist the next time you want to send a message that falls in line with social issues or Black Lives Matter.

To have a message that involves “understanding,” you need to first understand the movement at hand.