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Pepsi ads aim to emphasize its youthful brand by championing it as “the choice of a new generation.” Not a bad marketing tool to turn its second-class status to Coca-Cola, its archrival, into an advantage.
However, Pepsi’s recent commercial starring Kendall Jenner (of the Kardashian clan) was a fiasco. And, the backlash was fast and furious, because it preyed on racial and ethnic stereotypes: Asian as a classical musician; Muslim woman wearing a hijab; black males as reggae and hip-hop artists; white riot gear police holding fort against a multi-ethnic crowd. And, of course, the reenactment of the white hero/ rescuer trope. Jenner thwarts a possible riot simply offering a cop a Pepsi. However, before the denouement Jenner removes her blonde wig to give to a black woman because natural hair - any Eurocentric fashion- conscious female knows- won’t do.
Front and center of the commercial’s narrative arch is the misappropriation of the iconic and viral photo of Ieshia Evans. Evans is the 28-year-old African American mother who in 2016 during a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge stunned the nation as well as the world when she silently walked to the front line of heavily-armed police and offered her hands to be arrested.
The ad was not only tone deaf in culturally appropriating the Black Lives Matter struggle, but it was also an ill-conceived ambitious project overreaching to tap into a multicultural new market- Millennials.
Of all previous generations, however, Millennials are the most health-conscious customers, and non-alcoholic carbonated drinks -like both Coke and Pepsi - well, they are just not that into them. Connexity, a consumer analytics provider revealed as recent as December 2016 that Millennials, between the ages of 18-24, consume mostly natural drinks.
However, both cola conglomerates gear their ad commercials mainly to the children of their most loyal fan base - African Americans and Latino Americans.
Pepsi and Coke have a long history with its African American community. Pepsi, however, has nearly a century-old loyal fan base because Coke- once referred to as the ‘Jim Crow drink” -would not sell to African American markets. Pepsi- derisively referred to as the “N-word drink” -exploited the opportunity, narrowing its competition with Coke by opening markets in the Southern black belt and the Northern inner cities and hiring an all-black sales team. Pepsi ads flooded stores patronized by us and in African American publications with black models and celebrities. And