Pepsi received an onslaught of backlash in the form of tweets and memes after many people viewed its most recent commercial, featuring supermodel and Kardashian sister Kendall Jenner, as an unrealistic exploitation and commercialization of protest movements like Black Lives Matter. Some drew critical comparisons to images that were taken from Baltimore’s unrest after Freddie Gray’s death in 2015.
The commercial, which was posted to Pepsi’s YouTube channel Tuesday, showed Jenner ditching a photo shoot and her makeup to join a protest happening outdoors. Jenner then goes to the front line and offers a police officer a can of Pepsi. The officer takes a sip and the crowd erupts in cheers. The officer then gives a smirk and nod to his fellow police officer.
Baltimore activist and educator DeRay Mckesson, who was arrested in Baton Rouge, La., in July while protesting police brutality, tweeted that the ad was “trash.”
“If I had carried Pepsi I guess I never would’ve gotten arrested. Who knew?” Mckesson tweeted Tuesday.
Twitter user @YeahItsWilly included a picture from 2015 of a young boy in Baltimore passing out bottled water to police officers.
“We did this in Baltimore. Nothing changed @pepsi,” he tweeted. The tweet, with more than 23,000 retweets and 41,000 likes, went viral.
But the reach went far beyond Baltimore or modern-day protests. A descendant of late activist the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. chimed in.
“If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi,” tweeted his daughter Bernice King, along with a picture of her father being physically restrained by police.
Pepsi pulled the ad Wednesday afternoon and released a statement.
“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 pulling the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position," the company stated.
Pepsi’s apology drew additional criticism.
“It's incredible that @pepsi apologized to Kendall,” Mckesson tweeted Wednesday. “She chose to be a part of that ad. Pepsi needs to apologize to the protestors.”
Even though Pepsi said it pulled the ad, the two-minute, 40-second commercial was still available on Kendall and her sister Kylie’s joint YouTube channel as of Thursday afternoon. The video has received more than 4 million views.
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