UPDATE: Pepsi has pulled its "Live for Now" ad starring Kendall Jenner from YouTube following a significant backlash to its message. The brand issued the following statement, according to Wall Street Journal reporter Jennifer Maloney: "Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position."
- Pepsi aired a new two-and-a-half minute video spot as part of its "Live for Now" campaign Tuesday that has immediately drawn widespread criticism for cribbing imagery from social movements like Black Lives Matter, Adweek reported.
- The spot, which stars Kendall Jenner and was created by Pepsi's in-house Creators League Studio, depicts Jenner abandoning her post at a fashion shoot to join a protest march outside. When the diverse group of protesters encounters a police blockade, Jenner steps out and hands a police officer a Pepsi, which he enjoys, inciting cheers and smiles from the crowd.
"This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey," Pepsi told Adweek in a statement defending its work.
In fractured, particularly heated political times, striking the right tone in marketing messaging is both a trickier balancing act to accomplish but also a more important one, as consumers demand ads be emotionally resonant and keyed into modern society. In any context, however, Pepsi's latest effort might read as misguided, suggesting a brand product can act as an olive branch between often harshly embattled groups — protesters and police.
As others have noted, the spot in some ways echoes Coca-Cola's 1971 classic "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke," another ad championing togetherness and diversity through soft drinks. But while Coke's ad depicted unity fairly simply, showing people singing on a hill, Pepsi's focuses on a celebrity — Jenner — and also arguably inappropriately draws on highly-charged imagery.
This approach appears to have pleased no one — neither more progressive consumers, who view the co-opting of very real movements as offensive, nor those who are cynical toward brand marketing that makes a point of showcasing diversity and inclusion.
It's interesting that the "Live for Now" spot was created by Pepsi's in-house creative team. More major marketers — Pepsi included — are putting their ad agency partners under review if not dropping them altogether, with some suggesting that in-house shops will be more familiar with the brand and what it stands for. Though Pepsi is standing by it, The Creators League Studio ad might draw some skepticism to those claims, and whether in-house efforts have the finesse or expertise of more traditional agencies.
Baffled reactions on Twitter, where the bulk of the ire has been aired, speak for themselves:
theory: that Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad is actually a Coke ad— Chris Gayomali (@chrisgayomali) April 4, 2017
I've been studying commercials for 30 years. Kendall's Pepsi ad is legitimately the worst one I've ever seen.— Joseph Kahn (@JosephKahn) April 4, 2017
The inoffensive generic protest signs in Pepsi's woke Kendall Jenner ad are hilarious. pic.twitter.com/9t2h6YxCZL— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) April 4, 2017