That Pepsi Ad: Products vs. People Power
by Jade French
Oh, Pepsi. It was so easy in the 90s, wasn’t it. Feminism was having an identity crisis and had, in some ways, been relegated to muffled shouts of ‘Girl Power’. Thus, the Spice Girls proved the best type of spokespeople. It was feminism-lite. Diet politics. Edgy enough without being, you know, too much.
Times have changed. The relative prosperity of the 1990s has given way to economic failure, austerity and throwback politics. Celebrity culture has rendered spokespeople mute through Snapchat filters and hashtags. In the UK, when celebs do speak out about causes such as the refugee crisis or welfare cuts they’re labelled as entitled, stupid, out of touch. It’s Prosecco politics, champagne socialism, hypocritical. And so voices that can amplify causes get muffled. Funny that.
Brands & Ethics
OMG, it’s so confusing.
Young people seem to love brands. There’s none of this counter-culture, punk, anti-brand sentiment of the past. People love that Stormzy wears Adidas and Rhianna designs for Puma. It creates 'Millennial Hysteria', apparently. And Pepsi is no strangers to celeb endorsement, everyone from Britney to Beyonce have been the face of the brand.
In this way, Kendall Jenner is a savvy move. Millennials and Gen Z are “social consumers”, scrolling through Instagram and YouTube for inspo; the ‘real’ nature of these platforms makes celeb endorsement seem intimate and seamless. They’re sandwiched between pictures of your mates. The days of gloss and glamour are over. Now it's about sweat and #nofilter. Being ‘real’ is ev-uh-ry-thing.
On top of this, brands are being told left, right and centre that Millennials and Gen Z love ethics. Omg they’re soooo vegan. They want sustainability. They’re totally into feminism and the environment and LGBTQA* issues. Apart from the ones that were radicalised online for Donald Trump’s campaign obv.
However, when this doesn’t translate into the brands own ethical missions, it falls flat.
So, this Pepsi ad has Twitter fuming for a good reason.
The obvious symbolism of Kendall Jenner giving a can of soda to a police officer and thus stopping inequality is blood boiling. The Pepsi advert rankles because it uses real issues, real pain, real activism to sell a product. It echoes inspiring and gut-wrenching imagery from Baton Rouge to Tiananmen Square. People who really stood up to authority.
Our generation instead gets Kendall ripping off her blonde wig (because, as we all know, blonde girls just wanna have fun... or be Republican) and joining a protest. The protest is made up of 'creatives'. One's a musician, another a photographer. They're just like SO creatively frustrated and multicultural, you know. They needed a cause to be able to create. Luckily, there's one happening just outside their window. Including obligatory street dance and models doing a 'rock on' sign. Super provocative and political. So, off they pop.
There are other elements of the ad that are also irritating. For one, this crowd are protesting for "peace" and "love”. If the marketing team had some guts, this could be a platform for myriad issues facing myriad groups.
Do Pepsi think seasoned activists actually just want “peace” and “love”? Because, these days, I think it's more about systemic change and consciousness raising.
If Pepsi had taken out 3 minutes of airtime to show a snippet of a real protest, given airtime over to people who made headway towards real change. Then maybe we could talk.
We know Pepsi doesn't care about protest. We know H&M doesn't care about its supply chains. We know Karl Lagerfeld’s doesn’t care about feminism. We know wearing a t-shirt that says ‘This is What A Feminist Looks Like’ means nothing.
These are empty messages: ‘Be yourself’, ‘Free freedom’, ‘Peace’, ‘Love’. It looks just good enough to tap into our brains but doesn’t go that extra mile to deliver real change.
You know what messages do evoke people power? #BlackLivesMatter, We Are the 99%, Save Our NHS, Sí se puede, Piss on Pity.
Spending Power: Hit ‘Em Where it Hurts
The only great message to take away from #PepsiGate is the power of the people’s pocket. Brands care about issues because they perceive that Millennials and Gen Z care about issues.
The spending power of these two generations is what brands have their eyes on. The prize? Loyal consumerism.
So, if Pepsi is leaving a distasteful, syrupy mess in your mouth – capitalise on it because your spending actually does have power. Instead of buying into commercialised versions of feminism and self-care we can support Stop Funding Hate, economic activism, consumer boycotts and store shutdowns.
Hit ‘em where it hurts – their profits.