Pepsi Max: A Privileged Supermodel’s Guide to Solving Racism

by CashMeOusside on April 21, 2017 - 2:39pm

Advertisement is a form of communication that allows a company to reach a target market in order to increase their revenue. Companies have included very artistic approaches in order to catch the attention of viewers to gain popularity and some have also included endorsements from celebrities in order to be more appealing to their target audience. However, advertisements cannot be as effective as companies want them to be if the message or the way in which the ad is presented become immoral. In addition, companies that produce the ad have a social responsibility, as examined by Drumwright, Berger and Cunningham, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and ethics are closely aligned through the three dimensions they observed in the CSR definitions. The first is, “internal policies and processes that ensure that a company conducts its operations in a responsible and ethical manner” the second, “external initiatives that contribute to and improve the communities in which a company operates such as corporate philanthropy and employee volunteerism” and finally “the impact of these initiatives on society” (Drumwright and Patrick 1). The recent ad that sent shockwaves across social media was created by Pepsi and was released in early April. The ad featured Kendall Jenner, a white supermodel, joining a diverse group of protesters who were being blocked by police officers. Towards the end of the ad the supermodel simply joins the marching protesters and presents one of the police officers with a can of Pepsi which he then drinks; this particular action somehow made the “tension” between protesters melt away and people erupted in cheers. According to deontology, misdirected ads that portray some sort of appropriation of an important issue to the point where it becomes trivialized is immoral because it does not pass the categorical imperative.

Pepsi claimed that their intention was not to cause harm or bring anger to its viewers when they decided to create the advertisement, they told business news insider, "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 important message to convey" (Taylor). They did indeed present individuals of multicultural backgrounds with unique talents coming together during a protest such as an Asian cello player and a female Muslim photographer, and based on the messages written on the posters, such as; “join the conversation, “love” and “unity” they were clearly trying to model certain virtues such as tolerance for each other, multiculturalism and social justice. These virtues align with the ethical framework of virtue ethics which maintains focus on making an individual moral. Therefore, many would be able to argue that the Pepsi ad was morally sound since they were trying to display virtues and not vices. In addition, In the age of new media, there are “new ways to reach people, everyone has access to everything… Anybody can say anything about anybody or anything at any time” (Drumwright and Patrick 5). Therefore, it is not Pepsi’s fault that some people got the wrong message other than what they initially thought of.

However, it is not possible to know for sure what they had in mind when they thought about posting their ad; if they intended on gaining extra attention because they knew how controversial the ad would become, then it does not pass the categorical imperative that people should not be used as a means to an end. Furthermore, there is a hint of deception and racism within the ad because they alluded to the Black Lives Matter protests that have been going on in the past couple of years which is why Pepsi faced backlash. According to The Guardian, the ad was “tone-deaf, it also failed to make any political point at all, co-opting the imagery, without taking a stand… it’s better to stand for something than for nothing. But in effect it did both: it stood for nothing, with these anodyne signs, and it still created a backlash” (Nicholson). The fact that the ad stood for nothing made it unnecessary. People were outraged by the fact that the ad trivialised the past and recent protests. The Black Lives Matter protests which were violent in nature, lead to the deaths and injuries of many innocent people. Truthfulness is lost when things become appropriated and it is also a problem when people are exposed to it. According to Rubie-Davies, cultivation theory is a phenomenon in which people who are exposed to the constant stereotypes of deceptive ads “could result in distorted perceptions about particular groups” (Rubie-Davies 2). The ad made it seem as if protests were not harsh in nature and that people just attend them without an actual need for change. Furthermore, the handing-over of a can of Pepsi to the random officer, alludes to the iconic photo of a fearless and innocent Ieshia Evans standing in front of police officers from Baton Rouge ready to be handcuffed. However, the police officers were much more heavily geared and dangerous and Ieshia was obviously not there to hand over a simple drink to solve an issue. She was there to make a point that the political tension between black protesters and white police officers is a problem; police officers have a duty to protect citizens regardless of the person’s background. Moreover, they did not address anything important such as the racial discrimination most African Americans face but instead it portrayed a white, privileged, supermodel being the one to bring the “change” and because of her, the tension in the march was cleared away. It is as if the ad was trying to say that caucasians are the heroes and things are much calmer when they are dealing with issues. Hence, according to deontology, the Pepsi ad which included Kendall Jenner was immoral.

The issue with misdirected ads occur when ignorant producers choose to appropriate sensitive topics and incorporate it into the advertisement campaign which then negatively affect the meaning of the appropriated topic by making it seem less important in the real world. The Pepsi ad does not pass the categorical imperative of deontology because they got the attention they were probably looking for, and the ad was very tone-deaf because it trivialized the strikes that have been taking place in North America for past couple of years. Advertisement need to sell the product as it is an should not have to resort to misrepresenting to the point where it can become false advertisement.



Works Cited

Drumwright, Minette E. and Patrick E. Murphy. "The Current State of Advertising

Ethics." Journal of Advertising, vol. 38, no. 1, Spring2009, pp. 83-107. EBSCOhost,,ip,url&db=bsh&AN=36892238&site=ehost-live.

Nicholson, Rebecca. “From Coke's Flower Power to Kendall Jenner's Pepsi Ad – How Ads Co

Opt Protest.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 Apr. 2017, Accessed 17 Apr. 2017.

Pepsi MAX “Live For Now Moments Anthem” Feat. “Lions” by Skip Marley. YouTube, 4 Apr.

2017,  Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.

Rubie-Davies, Christine M., et al. "Watching Each Other: Portrayals of Gender and Ethnicity in

Television Advertisements." Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 153, no. 2, Mar. 2013, pp. 175-195. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00224545.2012.717974.,ip,url&db=bsh&AN=85285381&site=ehost-live

Taylor, Kate. “Pepsi's New Ad Shows Kendall Jenner Joining a Protest and Giving a Cop a Soda

- and People Are Furious.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 4 Apr. 2017,  Accessed 17 Apr. 2017.