This is What F-Minus CSR Looks Like

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Written by Kyle Groetzinger, VOX DC Intern

It’s a familiar scene to anyone who has paid attention to the news over the last year: Young people carrying brightly colored protest signs as they march down a blocked off street. A line of stoic police officers around the perimeter of the march, blue lights flashing behind them. Suddenly the scene shifts, and a lone protestor strides toward the officers. It’s Kendall Jenner, passing out Pepsi. Wait…what? Insert record scratch here.

By now, you’re probably aware of Pepsi’s controversial ad, which depicted a protest not unlike recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Toward the end of the commercial, Jenner leaves a modeling shoot to join the protest, and hands an officer a Pepsi. He drinks it, and the crowd goes wild. The officer grins. Maybe everyone can get along after all.

In the midst of serious strain between progressives and conservatives, it’s not hard to see that Pepsi was trying to join the conversation in a meaningful way. They wanted to frame their product as an olive branch during a difficult period for our country, and that’s not a problem in itself. The way they went about it was and is a problem.

The Internet went after Pepsi with pitchforks and torches, but they made legitimate points. Twitter users lambasted Pepsi for perceived cultural insensitivity, and accused the company of trying to make money off of what protestors see as a struggle for human rights. The end of the commercial, with Kendall Jenner uniting protestors and police over a Pepsi, was taken as particularly tone-deaf.

It suggests that the complex, hotly debated points of the Black Lives Matter movement – most of which involve controversial police shootings of black people – could be solved by a soft drink. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter Bernice tweeted a photo of her father being manhandled by a police officer, captioned, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”

The notion that soda solves social issues is not the only problematic part of the ad. Choosing Kendall Jenner – a wealthy white model known for her career in reality television – as the star of an ad pitching multicultural understanding may not have been the best choice. Depicting her as singlehandedly fixing the relationship between people of color and police officers (again, with a soda) definitely was not the best choice.

If you take a close look at the signs held by the protestors, they say things like, “Join the conversation!” and “Love.” It’s clearly an attempt to soften the message of the ad so that Pepsi is not seen as tacitly endorsing Black Lives Matter or any of the political positions espoused during recent protests. Fair enough, but if Pepsi wanted to avoid such implications, they shouldn’t have made the ad in the first place.

The sad reality is that this ad may discourage companies from taking bold political or cultural stances in their ads, for fear of backlash. Done correctly, this could have been a show of inclusion and solidarity from one of America’s most prominent brands. Other companies like Budweiser and 84 Lumber have been lauded for their ads celebrating immigrants earlier this year. The key difference here is that those companies made stories about people, sponsored by companies. This ad was a story about Pepsi. But hey, it could be worse. Check out what Nivea’s up to. Or worse, United Airlines.

 

This is What F-Minus CSR Looks Like

iStock-145556029

Written by Kyle Groetzinger, VOX DC Intern
It’s a familiar scene to anyone who has paid attention to the news over the last year: Young people carrying brightly colored protest signs as they march down a blocked off street. A line of stoic police officers around the perimeter of the march, blue lights flashing behind them. Suddenly the scene shifts, and a lone protestor strides toward the officers. It’s Kendall Jenner, passing out Pepsi. Wait…what? Insert record scratch here.
By now, you’re probably aware of Pepsi’s controversial ad, which depicted a protest not unlike recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Toward the end of the commercial, Jenner leaves a modeling shoot to join the protest, and hands an officer a Pepsi. He drinks …

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