Pepsico hitches a ride on US protest movements

Pepsico appears to have emerged relatively unscathed from their recent Kendall Jenner advertising debacle, despite receiving strong criticism online.

The YouTube ad featuring the popular model and reality television star was posted on April 5 and was taken down within 24 hours due to a significant backlash.

Although Pepsico has removed the original video, a repost of the ad by YouTuber, Kendall and Kylie, currently has more than 9.5 million views with a dislike rate of 83%.

It is the ad’s portrayal of protestors and activism that has garnered this reaction from online audiences. The ad focuses on a protest march comprised of young and attractive Pepsi drinkers. There is no mention of the cause for this protest march in the ad.

A combination of young, dancing activists, music and the use of model Kendall Jenner presents protest marches as roaming parties instead of social demonstrations that seek to change the course of history.

Companies who adopt a political or social stance so their brands will appeal to their customer’s values is nothing new. What is different about Pepsico’s take on lifestyle branding in this ad is that it does not show what political or social stance it is supporting.

The ad premiered against the backdrop of social movements in the US rising to combat President Donald Trump. By using protest-flavoured advertisements, Pepsico is attempting to capitalise on the popularity of movements like Black Lives Matter and the women’s marches.

While the ad means that the social movements are gaining attention, to the extent that mega corporations have to relate to them as part of youth culture, the branding of activism is an unwelcome gesture. Mega corporations want to profit from social movements, but their branding campaign will always be hollow because there is no money in real activism.

Despite the controversy, online criticism appears to have had minimal financial impact on the company.

On April 24, Pepsico shares closed at an all-time high of $114.32 per share, according to Yahoo Australia Finance.

Western Sydney University advertising lecturer Jacki Krahmalov said Pepsico’s recent share performance is not surprising considering the extra publicity that has been generated from this controversy. “It gets people talking and thinking about the product and it ultimately helps the brand in regard to sales,” she told Green Left Weekly.

Krahmalov claims that the ability to influence Pepsico’s bottom line ultimately rest with consumers. “If people say ‘we aren’t going to buy this product anymore and neither should you’, it will affect their sales,” she said.

Even if internet and social media backlash has failed to impact Pepsico financially, consumers still have the ability to use their wallets to make their opinion heard.

As more people continue to take to the streets in protests, we can expect to see more of this sort of advertising that makes activism sexy. In reality however, the 99% are marching against corporate greed and the likes of Trump. Yes, Pepsico is hitching a ride on the back of our marches, but we know they’re just another corporation of the 1%.

[Harley Bowd is a member of Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance]

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.