I will be focusing on Pepsi’s ‘Live for the Moments’ ad. Back in April 2017, Pepsi released a video ad that aimed to promote “a global message of unity, peace and understanding” (PepsiCo, 2017). The ad follows Kendall Jenner, a glamorous model, as she abandons her superficial photoshoot, joins a passing protest, and diffuses the tension between police and protesters using a can of Pepsi.
Police brutality and institutionalized violence against people of colour (POC), especially against African-Americans, is an issue that’s gained significant momentum in the past decade. This ad was clearly an attempt to reference the anti-police violence protests organized by initiatives such as, Black Lives Matter, while simultaneously trying to position Pepsi as a progressive corporation. The issue in this ad is in its depoliticized imagery and promotion of the White Saviour complex.
Pepsi co-opted a highly political issue but failed to take a meaningful stance in its attempt to appeal to current politics. The production of the video — the intentional casting of pleasant policemen, generic protest signs (‘Love’, ‘Join the Conversation’), the product placements — portrayed a glorified image of protests. Rooted in neoliberal ideas, this ad illustrates the ways that corporations are capitalizing on social movements to serve their own capital accumulation. Its appropriation of an entire movement not only missed the mark with its intended purpose, but also minimized the hardship and violence that many protesters face in reality.
Kendall Jenner’s role in the ad was to inspire activism among the younger generation by showing viewers they too can instigate social change. However, casting a white, cishetero woman of incredible wealth as the saviour in a highly racialized issue perpetuates the White Saviour Complex. It showcases another instance of how the voices of POC are appropriated and their agency is removed.
The purpose of my Culture Jam is to politicize and contextualize the policing institution while also satirizing Kendall Jenner’s role as a White Saviour.
I started by altering the appearance of the police officers in the ad. I covered up and replaced their faces with blocks of text as well as added splotches of red on their uniform. The inclusion of the text block over the policemen’s faces was an intentional choice to remove the individual agent and highlight the oppressive systems at work. The text blocks symbolize the realities of what many POC face when interacting with the police. The splotches of red represent the structural violence that many POC endure — illustrating once again that policing institutions cannot be separated from the historical (and continual) violence against marginalized communities.
Then, I added several graves in the background of the jammed ad to illustrate the lives lost due to police brutality and protests against institutionalized violence. The fact that they have been rendered in the background while Jenner is centered in the ad describes Jenner’s privileges and the continual erasure of marginalized peoples in mainstream media.
To problematize Jenner’s role in the ad, I made minor adjustments to her appearance and added a red carpet under her feet. In the jammed ad, Jenner is wearing a denim jacket with the word ‘privilege’ written on her back — her privilege is visible and she is literally carrying it around. She is holding a can of ‘performative allyship’ rather than a Pepsi. These two details are meant to highlight Jenner’s appropriation of the social issue and show how her privilege shields her from understanding the struggles of POC.
The addition of the red carpet in this jammed ad ties into the previous adjustments to Jenner’s appearance to emphasize her privilege. Red carpets are commonly associated with wealth, fame, prestige, and commemoration. With the red carpet covering the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Intersectionality’, it visually highlights how POC communities and activists are silenced on issues that directly affect their livelihoods.
The goal of my jammed piece is to juxtapose the original ad’s portrayal of police officers and protesters with one that situates the issue of institutionalized violence in its political landscape.
- Chicago Tribune. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-pepsi-kendall-jenner-protest-video-backlash-0406-biz-20170405-story.html
- PepsiCo. (2017). Pepsi Statement Re: Pepsi Moments Content. Retrieved from http://www.pepsico.com/live/pressrelease/pepsi-statement-re–pepsi-momentscontent04052017