View From The Side: The Pepsi Advert Is Really Not The Problem


SO you may well have seen the Pepsi advert that is getting the online community into a froth of outrage.

The likesandshares have been flying. The parody memes have been gathering. The thunderous clouds of this week’s twitterstorm have brewed.

Prepare for battle!  If you haven’t seen the advert, because you’ve better things to do with your life than follow blips of online outrage, here it is. 

It appears that the message in the current advert is much the same as every advert Pepsi has ever dropped, ie, DRINK PEPSI & FEEL GOOD! LIVE FOR TODAY! Naturally living for today makes a lot of sense if your rampaging Pepsi habit has rendered the rest of your life a gradual slump towards rotten teeth and type 2 Diabetes.  This particular ad is centred round one of those inexplicably famous, machine-built American women who appear to be constantly upgrading their body with offcuts from a luxury sexdoll factory (which may be your thing! I don’t judge.) The internet has assured me that this particular production line model is called Kendal Jenner. I genuinely haven’t got a clue who she is, but obviously Pepsi think she’s got the brand recognition to help sell saccharine grot to plebs worldwide.

In the ad there are lots of people marching through the streets at a protest (protests- so now!). They appear to be waving around banners with the CND logo on, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that they’re protesting against the horrific possibility of some future nuclear annihilation of the globe, rather than any of the more current topics of protest (ie the continued annihilation of black people everywhere). Nuclear winter isn’t the sexiest way of selling a soft drink, so Pepsi are pretty coy as to what’s going on, but I see those signs! Plus, also, it’s a protest! Smash stuff! Be free! The time is now! Carpe diem! Etc.

OK, so the famous women is standing around being photographed while all this goes on. But she sees the protest going past, with its immaculately groomed and demographically satisfactory protestors, and she thinks- do you know what? FUCK THIS! FUCK THIS SHIT JOB! FUCK MY MEANINGLESS LIFE AS AN ECHOING CRUCIBLE FOR THE FANTASIES OF A CYNICAL PATRIARCHY! I’M GOING WILD IN THE FUCKING STREETS!! And she whips off her blonde wig to reveal *gasp* black hair! She smears off her lipstick and she’s right there in it! Going wild! Raaargh! As a side note, this is a terrible advert for Kendall’s future services as a model -she’s clearly unreliable af walking off the shoot like that- but whatever.

Anyway, long story short, she ends up giving a can of Pepsi to a riot copper. Rather than caving her skull in with a truncheon, like the storm trooper of global capital we know him to be, he glugs that sweet, sweet nectar with a grateful smile and everything is damn fine with the world.

There’s no denying the several comedy elements of this advert. Primarily, we can laugh that a horde of adults sat around in a brain storming session and thought that, yes, the best way to co-opt the current zeitgeist for activism was to have a famous-for-being-famous model handing cold cola to a pig. I can only assume that not a single one of the extremely well paid people at the ad agency have ever looked at – or perhaps even heard of- twitter, because this whole campaign seems to be as precisely tooled as Kendal Jennar’s face, if it’s objective was to have millions of people taking the piss. It’s got it nailed; a brand cack-handedly bandwagoneering and a glamourous young woman that common consensus has decided to hate. In fact, were I to don my tinfoil titfer I’d even have to wonder whether the peeps at Pepsi had an inkling  – and maybe even a hope – that this might kick off the level of outrage it has amongst social media’s guardians of justice, thus spreading the Pepsi word far and wide. But I think it’s more likely they fucked up because they’re mental.  

The thing is (and come one, this is Ransom Note, we’re contrary idiots, you knew there’d be a BUT) Pepsi’s biggest crime hasn’t been exploiting activism – it’s been exploiting activism so nakedly. The world of social media has created a generation of Pavlovian hounds who jump at the most basic of whistles. Nuance is so 2007. The simplifying imperative of 140 character commentary has tended to mean that the stories that pick up the most traction are the ones that can be told in big, dumb strokes. In this set up “Evil-mega-corp-corrupts-earnest-good-activism-to-sell-crap-badly” is a shoe in. Stir in the intoxicating whiff of racism, post it with a snarky meme and you’ve done your bit to save the world and show that you, yes you, care. You know this because all the likesandshares prove it.

Right this very second, think pieces are being written from here to eternity about this advert. Here’s the Independent hilariously calling it ‘the worst commerical of all time’, because the tone deaf way it seeks to exploit counter culture has definitely not ever happened up to this point. I mean imagine 60s Flower Children allowing a cola company to co-opt the long-haired desire for universal racial harmony into a cynical campaign to sell unhealthy shite? That’d never happen.

Hmmmm. Are you telling me that this has been going on for decades? And somehow it still happens? But we tweeted about it! Surely that counts!

I find it genuinely comical that keyboard warriors around the world are going in on Pepsi – their problem is that Pepsi didn’t trick them well enough. Pepsi is part of the same corporate structure (hell, lets call it capitalism!) that bankrolls Beyonce performances which feature Black Panther imagery, that releases Slaves records with titles such as Consume or Be Consumed, that makes anti-establishment programs such as Mr. Robot, that flogs sweatshop made t-shirts daubed with leftist slogans, and that is very happy to see Buzzfeed publishing lists of gifts for the ‘Future Revolutionary in your Life’. Apparently these things are all fine. But Pepsi not showing the reality of police brutality in an entirely banal advert? THAT SIR IS TOO MUCH. 

Basically I’m coming into a full on WAKE UP SHEEPLE rant here, but it starting to seem like the most vocal members of the new generation of online activism don’t mind counter culture being used to sell stuff, as long as they can’t see the paper trail. Lie to me baby! Let’s not think about the slaves who make our iPads when we can be banging on about Pepsi! Personally I’d say a Buzzfeed list suggesting you fight the power by accumulating material goods is far more pernicious than a ludicrous soft drink advert. I’d also contend that if you wanted something to worry about, the sugar content in Pepsi is more damaging to life and more worthy of outrage than any amount of crass mood boarding. But hey! It tastes good! Essentially, I fear that a generation are having their righteous anger defanged. Complex stories don’t get shared, and it’s very hard not to get hooked on the serotonin pings you get from going viral. Maybe – just maybe – the real targets are too big and too complicated to be tapped out in a couple of slogans, a hot take and a meme. 


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