Pepsi Pulls Kendall Jenner Ad That Sparked Social Media Firestorm

PHILADELPHIA (AP/CNN) — Pepsi is pulling an ad that has been widely criticized for appearing to trivialize protests for social justice causes.

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding,” the company said Wednesday in a news release. “Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.”

It said it was “removing the content and halting any further rollout.”

The ad shows Kendall Jenner, a member of the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” reality TV family, stepping away from a modeling shoot to join a crowd of young protesters. The protesters cheer after Jenner hands a can of Pepsi to a police officer, who takes a sip.

“My initial reaction was trying to figure out what the message was,” said Americus Reed, marketing professor at the Wharton School of Business.

He says this ad seems to have missed the mark.

“I think the message here is too convoluted in terms of the disconnect between this notion of something that is serious but also trying to butt heads with something that is playful and youthful,” said Reed.

PepsiCo Inc. had previously said the ad would “be seen globally across TV and digital” platforms, and had stood by the ad late Tuesday. In its statement Wednesday, PepsiCo apologized to Jenner for putting her “in this position.”

Critics say the image of Jenner handing the officer a Pepsi evoked a photo of Black Lives Matter protester Ieshia Evans approaching an officer at a demonstration in Baton Rouge last year.

“This is probably not going to play well with certain audiences,” Reed says. “I think there is some imagery that at least to me stands out very obviously with respect to symbols of current tension and not only the political and social environment.”

“Pepsi’s new ad Kendall Jenner ‘ends racism’ by handing police men a Pepsi – way to degrade 50 yrs of black/minority struggle,” wrote one person on Twitter.

“Can you believe Kendall Jenner solved all the Black Lives Matter issues by giving a Pepsi to a cop? inspiring,” wrote another, sarcastically.

“Next time @pepsi do one where Kendall Jenner marches to Montgomery but the cops don’t bludgeon her bc she’s white & has a refreshing @pepsi,” added New Yorker contributing writer Jia Tolentino.

Community organizer Deray McKesson also commented on the ad, tweeting, “If I had carried Pepsi I guess I never would’ve gotten arrested. Who knew?”

Philadelphians had different opinions about the ad.

“It seems like they’re not trying to market the Pepsi. They’re trying to market the agenda,” said one man.

“I think the ad could be controversial because we haven’t seen that many ads that are this political,” said another man.

The ad was part of what Pepsi was calling its “moments” campaign.

Jenner’s ad was called “Jump In,” “a short film about the moments when we decide to let go, choose to act, follow our passion and nothing holds us back,” according to a company description.

In a previous statement to CNN, Pepsi said: “This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an import message to convey.”

Jenner has not weighed in on the backlash.

In the end, professor Reed says Pepsi’s long term image won’t be affected

“People are busy and there are a lot of things in their lives that they’re worried about and there is a 24 hour news cycle where new stuff pushed into your mind,” he says. “People aren’t going to stop drinking Pepsi. I don’t think people are going to start drinking Pepsi because of this. So in the end it’s a net-net-wash.”

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The-CNN-Wire contributed to this report)

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