If you have a social media account, you're likely aware that Pepsi released a much-derided ad starring Kendall Jenner yesterday. The clip depicts the reality television star solving political unrest by handing a police officer a soda, and it was quickly criticized as being a tone-deaf and commodifying protest movements. Commentators also denounced the ad for trivializing the realities of anti-Black police violence, as one scene in the ad seems to echo a now-iconic photo of a Black Lives Matter activist confronting police in Baton Rouge.
The clip quickly caused a storm on social media, and UK journalist Dorian Lynskey joined in to point out that the clip bears a striking resemblance to the 1999 music video for The Chemical Brothers' single "Out Of Control." Starring Rosario Dawson, the first half of the video is a fictional soda ad that demonstrates cola's abilities to quell social unrest, much like the Pepsi commercial. The big reveal of the video, though, comes when the camera zooms out and shows that the ad was playing in an appliance store now damaged by protestors in a riot.
It's hard not to see another parallel in both Pepsi and The Chemical Brother's clip: Coca Cola's notorious "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" ad from the 70s, which famously appeared in the final episode of Mad Men. The commercial came out a few years after the civil rights era and during the Vietnam war, and strategically utilized themes of peace and diversity during a period of general global unrest to sell its product.
Given the fact the Coca-Cola ad became one of the most famous in history, perhaps the general public was more forgiving of vapid multicultural marketing 47 years ago. But as the Chemical Brothers' video shows, by the 90s people were a bit more skeptical of the motives behind corporations' cooptation of social movement imagery. So why on earth did Pepsi think it would work in 2017?
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