Let Me Ruin This For You // How PepsiCo Failed to Properly Exploit a Movement for Money

Image from New York Times

Image from New York Times

Catalyst celebrity Becky Scott takes a critical, but hilarious, look at pop culture favorites.

Today, Pepsi pulled an ad that featured Kendall Jenner ending America’s “police brutality problem” with a can of Coke’s fraternal, less attractive twin. The company pulled the ad in reaction to the millennial outrage that befell them upon the ad’s release Tuesday night.

“How could Pepsi do this? Sad!” some tweeted. Others made the sacrifice-free promise to only drink Coke products from here on out. The internet was aflame with indignation and not without good reason. Pepsi had turned a movement—a movement upon which it would be no exaggeration to say human lives are dependent—into a commodity.

There’s probably a Pepsi executive out there right now, shaking his head over a half-full decanter, wondering how such a dependable method of advertising failed him. Maybe he’s sitting in a dark room, projecting a YouTube compilation of the 2017 Super Bowl commercials onto the wall, thinking to himself, “What about Budweiser’s pro-immigration commercial? What about Coke’s anti-wall spot? Have we not made it clear that we too stand with the youths? We also believe in music and conversations and hijabs!”

His confusion wouldn’t be totally unfounded. The commodification of movements is a beloved American pastime and corporations are often rewarded for featuring “progressive” points of views in their advertisements. Remember that Cheerios commercial featuring the interracial couple? Of course you do—it was adorable and probably shared by your most basic friend. What about the Campbell’s Soup ad with the two dads? Sure, there were some religious consumers who, citing butt sex, said they would never buy Campbell’s Soup again but the ad went viral on YouTube and the risk ultimately paid off.

The truth is, of course, you do not become one of the leading multinational food, snack, and beverage corporations by standing up for what is right. You get there by giving millions of dollars to politicians who oppose a bill that would mandate the disclosure of genetically modified crops used in food products. You get there by lobbying against legislation intended to fight obesity. You get there by protecting at all costs your right to market your product to children.

Big corporations do not give a shit about gay marriage. They do not care about black lives or Muslim lives or transgender lives or women. Sometimes, though, there’s money to be made by exploiting progress and, if done right, corporations can publicly pat themselves on the back for having supported a good cause without risking profits. If done wrong, well—we know what happens.

So what was Pepsi’s mistake, exactly? A lack of specificity, for one. Too cowardly to make an actual statement, Pepsi decided to make a statement about making a statement. Had Pepsi shot a commercial featuring Beyonce walking into a crowd of protestors holding signs with messages like “Black Lives Matter” and “If God Hates Gays, Why Are We So Cute?” it may have found a warmer reception among the demography it was courting. Instead, it presented a sort of dream version of a protest. They gave us the “and then I was in my house but, like, it wasn’t my house, y’know????” version. And they severely underestimated the suspicion with which millennials regard the Kardashians any time one of them aligns herself with a “cause.” Pepsi’s sloppy execution – its transparent insincerity—earned it the internet’s wrath but its intentions were no more malignant than that of whatever Dove executive decided it would be financially advantageous to tell women they’re beautiful the way they are.

The best magicians make sleight of hand look like real magic. Some tricks may look seamless and others might be fumbled but don’t be fooled. Magic doesn’t exist and neither do the moral codes of big corporations. So drink Coke if you must but you might also want to consider voting in your state’s 2018 election.


Becky Scott

Becky Scott is a writer based in New York who loves The Bachelor and is great at giving humorous advice.