Pepsi’s failed street parade advert warns us how corporations can obscure the very real battles that our privilege enables us to ignore
At the risk of adding to the plethora of Pepsi publicity flooding the internet this week, I’ve written about Pepsi. Given the horrific use of Syria’s civilians as pawns in international feuds and one-ups, this seems trivial but deserves discussion nonetheless. If not just for the safety of anyone hoping to disarm riot police with a jug of Pimms this summer.
So, as has been well documented over the past few days, Pepsi have really screwed up. They “clearly missed the mark”. I’m not really sure they missed the mark so much as blew the mark out of existence. They took Black Lives Matter, activism, diversity – any sense of real principle – and trivialised it. Colour-coded it into a Pepsi can and made it altogether ripe for Snapchat.
A part of me almost feels sorry for the team behind the Pepsi ad as I can only imagine the collective slap of reality that ensued post-launch of this clusterfuck.
But I then remember softly worded protest signs bearing “join the conversation” and likely enormous paycheques, and my sympathy rapidly wanes. The less cynical side of me wants to believe that their original concept of “global unity, peace and understanding” was genuine (while inexplicably casting Kendall Jenner, world-famous promoter of civil rights), and that Pepsi’s rallying call of “Live for Now” also includes “but don’t forget to check your privilege”. For, as much as I hate to overuse the terms ‘privilege’ and ‘woke’, this ad really gets me for its gratuitous lack of integrity and gross flaunting of pseudo-wokeness.
The protest – or street party – was so painstakingly diverse, so very accepting of all (fashionable, good-looking) people – that it was a fabulous representation of millennial unity. The shades and hues of the extras selected to construct the group of serendipitous protestors were perfectly blended for a dose of post-Trump diversi-porn. And Kendall, throwing caution to the wind and sacrificing herself and her lipstick with such sass, was our benevolent white Barbie saviour. But what are they protesting? Why aren’t they angry? Why are their signs so dry, noncommittal and misspelt?
This entire shambles of activist fakery is a result of a social media generation intent on creating an image rather than cultivating rectitude. Whatever is Instagrammable, hashtaggable, snappable and looks good with a flower halo filter is up for grabs and has a price. Coca-Cola had something similar, albeit less disagreeable, with Coke Life. Promoting it as lower calorie and ‘natural’, it was another baffling addition to the huge #cleaneating wave of food shots and active wear populating our news feeds. Incidentally, Coca-Cola pulled Coke Life last week, and Pepsi had a similar product, Pepsi Raw, a few years ago, which also flopped. They’re on a roll.
Once upon a time, clean eating was just veganism (not #veganism) – making diet choices that are less offensive to the environment and to wildlife. Now it’s somewhat narcissistic and three times more expensive, eating in a way that’s less offensive to my body and more agreeable to my news feed, to help boost my self-esteem as well as my antioxidants. Whether the majority of people who post their vegan breakfasts are doing so for the good of the planet or for the good of their bodies, the fact still remains that the sentiment has been cheapened. And that’s exactly the precedent set by this Pepsi protest ad.
As a blow-by-blow, firstly, Kendall Jenner, briefly distracted from her photo shoot, notices the protest and clearly has no idea what it is about (but really, neither did we). Cue frustrated Hijabi, attempting to compile her vision for a better world but missing a vital ingredient. Kendall decides she’s had enough of this modelling, throws her blonde wig at her PA (#equality) and resolutely wipes off her bourgeoisie lipstick to join the party – I mean, protest – at the front, no less. Hijabi senses a ruckus and rushes out with her camera. Kendall doesn’t like the look of these riot police and knows the perfect solution (Pepsi), and Hijabi becomes so inspired that she takes her winning photo. World peace ensues.
The “Live for Now” bullshit that Pepsi have tried to justify this debacle with is perhaps the most abhorrent part: “It depicts various groups of people embracing a spontaneous moment, and showcasing Pepsi’s brand rallying cry to ‘Live For Now’, in an exploration of what that truly means to live life unbounded, unfiltered and uninhibited.” To say this statement is far removed from the reality of activism (or just reality) is an understatement. Standing up for civil rights, battling against oppression and fighting for equality are not really a choice, neither are such activists living “unbounded, unfiltered and uninhibited”. The civil rights movement is inhibition embodied, and wouldn’t need to exist if one and all could just live free, frivolous, disinhibited lives – while not being shoved to the back seats of buses, made to remove headscarves at work, forced to flee dropping bombs, strain through famine, be racially profiled, watch our government sell arms to fascists…
For these are the facts we can’t ignore. Activist movements are a means to an end, and the perception of participation for the sake of a social-media-positive feedback loop is a frank insult to those fighting for their lives. Thankfully, there were enough real-life activists who were not having any of this and the Pepsi advert didn’t last more than a day, but here’s hoping there isn’t more to come.
A parting message, from the world’s most reluctant dentist: just drink water #cleanliving.
Image from: http://bit.ly/2oXNghZ
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