The idea behind the commercial was simple – perhaps too simple: Showing Kendall Jenner keeping up with the times by leading a cola-fueled protest as the new, defiantly lipstick-free face of the Pepsi Generation.
But the immediate online backlash against the spot starring the 21-year-old "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" spawn exposed a Pepsi Generation gap.
The greatest ads – like Coke's classic hilltop singers spot – deftly mix artifice and zeitgeist. But Pepsi poured too much phoniness to swallow: The spectacle of a Reality TV star doffing her blond wig and lipstick to protest in an era of demonstrations against a Reality TV president proved surreal.
The shallow attempt at relevance also came off as deeply offensive. Some have noted, with justified derision, that Jenner's body posture toward cops echoes the widely seen photo of Black Lives Matter protester Ieshia Evans' standoff with riot-gear-clad police in Baton Rouge last year. Evans was arrested.
The image of Jenner, fresh from a modeling shoot, handing a cop a Pepsi also recalls the 1960s anti-war protesters who tried to give police flowers. The flower-power peaceniks sometimes got clubbed for their efforts. In Pepsi-land, Jenner's officer smiles and everybody cheers to a soundtrack of Skip Marley’s “Lions.”
It's not the first time the cola war fighters have co-opted – and sugarcoated – real-life conflict to sell soda.
The famed 1971 Coke ad, like the new Pepsi spot, used music and a diverse, young cast to tout youth empowerment, along with sugar water. The Coke commercial about teaching the world to sing returned fire against the 1960s Pepsi Generation campaign, which tapped the Baby Boomers’ cultural awakening – and spending power.
The new Pepsi ad offers another kind of wake-up call – asking viewers to believe the famous-for-being-famous Kendall Jenner, whose family epitomizes profiting from living the unexamined life, is suddenly “woke.”
But it doesn’t look like anybody is buying it.