The first time I saw images from Pepsi’s ad, I was scrolling on Instagram.
I stopped when I saw a white woman passing something to an officer. The photo was directly above the image of Ieshia Evans, the 28-year-old mother, who bravely stood in front of police officers during a Baton Rouge protest following the death of Alton Sterling. The caption read, “Hey advertisers, THIS is why ‘influencers’ can’t be your answer to everything. Oh, it’s also why you need ppl of color DURING the ideation process. Sometimes you just come off tone deaf…” I’d say.
Here’s the thing.
I grew up on Pepsi products. What’s more, as an African-American woman, it was not only normal, but the expectation to see one of my family members guzzling four Pepsis a day. When they hadn’t had one, they’d say they were feigning for one – a lot like addicts – and that was just in my household. I saw those same behaviors in other relatives’ homes as well as the homes of friends when I went to visit.
So the fact that Pespi, a company that my family and the African-American community not only supports, but is loyal to would recreate the image in their commercial is absolutely disgusting. Not only does it trivialize the purpose of the protests, but it puts the bottom line above the people who support it most.
Let’s be clear, no product is going to solve or stop any social issue. Period. That is especially true when people, a lot like Evans, is putting their bodies on the line. That is what it comes down to. That’s why that photo is lauded as one of the most iconic photos pertaining to the protests in the last couple of years. For Evans and others that protested, it was a matter of life and death. And despite the fact that Evans had a 5-year-old son, she refused to move knowing that any sudden movement could end fatally. But she did it anyway.
That’s why it’s downright degrading to whitewash that image with Kendall Jenner. It’s offensive to paint her as the hope that ends the protest by surprise, surprise, handing an officer a Pepsi. Like what? Have you not seen what’s been happening in streets all across this country? That is an unrealistic image that Pepsi very consciously knew could never happen if the models were Chanel Iman or Joan Smalls.
And just so we’re clear, this is not an attack on Kendall Jenner or the fact that she is a part of the Kardashian clan. I actually think she’s really talented, but she does not get a pass for her role in it because she should have known better. Not only as a millennial, but as a woman who calls and has called black men family. She might not know the struggle of black men in this country, but she could have (and should have) very well had a conversation with them about her portrayal in the abomination of this viral-baited ad.
So to Pepsi I say this:
Instead of trying to replicate that image and its viral-ability, support the communities that have supported you. Don’t sit by idly when black men and boys are dying in the street because they looked “intimidating” only to turn around to use the images that were born from their deaths to sell your products. Are you f*cking kidding me?
Furthermore, look at the team who created and okayed the ad. If there are no faces that identify with the original image, it makes sense why a company as big as Pepsi would think that this is okay.
It is NOT okay.
THIS is the very reason why their needs to be more people of color at the table. Because if there had been, surely like me, they would have known that this was not only wrong, but could possibly destroy the underlying message, however well-meaning.
When it’s clear that you’re so thirsty for likes, you completely missed the mark.