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Pepsi Wasn’t Ignorant, They Just Didn’t Give A Fuck

I’ve worked in marketing and advertising for about 20 years. That means I’ve seen white fuckery perpetuated under the auspices of selling all kinds of shit. I’ve seen Heineken make a billboard exclusively in Black neighborhoods that simply read “Supreme Clientele.” No explanation was offered. Just use the title of the hot Ghostface joint and watch the darkies lap it up! And then there was the banner ad for a Quarter Pounder with a vaguely-beige dude looking at a burger sideways saying “I’d hit that,” because niggas love to fuck cheeseburgers apparently. I’ve wanted to fuck up a Quarter Pounder when I was leaning’, but I’ve never wanted to fuck one.

But aforementioned fuckery aside, nothing prepared me for an experience I had while working on a major cigarette brand. This brand was poised to relaunch a major music festival and to engage the new younger demographic by mixing hip-hop with their traditional jazz concert. Fast forward to the part where a white colleague who’d been selected to head up this project says, “We need a name that’s like a different word. How about “Mongrelization?”

Record scratch. CD skip. File not recognized.

I laid into this dude about his gross insensitivity and racism. I educated him on Bull Connor and the historical, racial, weight of that word. I explained to him how his use for this event diminished the pain and sacrifices of people who were tormented by that word and several others as they pioneered integration. Then he politely whitesplained to me that he didn’t give a fuck about my opinion.

People don’t think that way anymore. This was a bigger idea than some ancient history. Most people probably won’t know that story (since he didn’t know it) and he thought it was a good idea and needed to go forward.  And that piece of shit idea – along with 5 of mine and 3 others went through three rounds of internal reviews and two rounds of client presentations before it was ultimately determined to be so toxic that they scrapped the whole concert. But not before a few scores of thousands of dollars were spent thinking about “Mongrelization,” and not before I quit because it took that long for them to see how fucked up it was.

So I know of what I speak when I say that this tragic example of rampant, unrepentant, creative masturbation, and all the self-congratulatory ejactulate that issued forth from Pepsi and Kendall Jenner was neither “ill-concieved” nor “poorly-thought out.” Hear me when I tell you: With a Kardashian-adjacent celebrity, and a multi-billion dollar global brand involved, everyone thought long and hard about what they wanted before they grabbed that lotion and went to town all over some images of the Black-suffering-fetish-porn that make up today’s headlines.

Let’s cut through what you’ve already read a half-dozen times about the similarities to the photo of Iesha Evans. We all saw that. We see how forced this spot is. We can practically see them checking off the boxes. Asian guy? Check. Muslim girl? check. Black people? Check. Wait,wait…are they dancin’? They gotta be dancin’. Funky-fresh, Check!

Did you peep the dark-skinned sister with the kinky, natural, twist out gently caressing Kendall’s blonde wig like it was her lover? Did you peep the sparks of energy that fly right before the Asian dude breaks the strings on his cello? The white guy spontaneously jamming with the people of color because music brings us all together? Of course you did. You were meant to. So let me tell you what you didn’t see.

When I first saw this ad I said, “Ugh this was probably a great idea that started out real and confrontational and knowing Pepsi, they kept pushing for shiny, happy, bullshit and the agency didn’t have the balls to pull the idea off the table.”

But that isn’t what happened. This billion-dollar “King Brand” (a brand that makes the rules of advertising simply by doing what it does) let their IN-HOUSE AGENCY (Creator’s League Studio, SoHo) do this. This is important to know because what it tells you is that Pepsi made the commercial themselves without the outside interference of common sense, reason, or cultural sensitivity. Digiday covered Creator’s League’s launch back in May of 2016  and they had this to say:

“Before this week, if Pepsi needed to get an edit made to an online film or piece of content, it would involve sending the piece off to an agency, who then in turn would perhaps send it an editor – a process that took, on average two weeks. Today it takes an hour. This week the soda brand announced the opening of “Creators League,” a 4,000-square foot content studio in New York’s SoHo neighborhood that the company hopes will let marketers, not agencies, sit in the creative driver’s seat.”

Welp. Mission accomplished. The marketers are in the drivers seat and they drove the brand right into a crowd of legitimately angry protesters and unceremoniously mowed them down in the name of “grabbing headlines” and “forcing the conversation.” Even some the signs in the “faux-test” (that’s “fake-ass protest” for the uninitiated) call for us to “join the conversation!” How twitter-ready can you get?
You think they’re worried about the Twitter dragging they got? NO! I’ll wager my last three salaries that when they pitched this they said something like, “Even if there’s backlash, it opens up an important dialogue and gets people talking. and Pepsi will be at the center of that conversation,” because this is what we say to sell irresponsible bullshit to clients who are eager to leave their mark on a brand.

MAKE NO MISTAKE: It isn’t that Pepsi didn’t know that some people would be upset about this ad. They just didn’t care. They didn’t care that they were mimicking protests where primarily Black people are brutalized – not for standing up for…I dunno –the color blue apparently– as the ad seems to suggest, but for speaking out against the UNJUST MURDERS OF AMERICAN CITIZENS BY POLICE. They didn’t care that the iconic images that “inspired” the work were the artifacts of human suffering.

They didn’t care that people who were at real protests and are still healing from wounds inflicted there might be triggered to the point of a PTSD relapse. They thought about ALL of it and probably said, “We’ll be all over the internet in hours. It’ll be viral by Wednesday.”

The horror of this ad is how well everything was thought out. It was planned down to the millisecond. The signs read “peace” and “love” because who can get mad at that? The cops aren’t in riot gear – hell, they aren’t even armed – so it’s not vilifying our heroes. Every type of marginalized group was represented.

And let me pause here to correct all the websites that are lightly suggesting that Pepsi (which places ads with many of them) “may have missed the mark” by co-opting “protest culture” and “the social justice movement.” NAH. FUCK THAT. This ad didn’t “co-opt” the pain and suffering that lead to the BLM protests and others that followed; Pepsi deliberately commodified Black suffering. Then they minimized it, sanitized it, and dipped it in sugar-sprinkles for profit, choosing a “white savior” figure, who is apparently making a bold statement by simply not being blonde, to cap it all off with a frosty cold offering in the spirit of #BlueLivesMatter because Pepsi can’t let you forget #BlueCansMatter.

Within hours, Pepsi released a predictably unapologetic statement about the ad. Record-time for an ad they didn’t expect to offend people.
This wasn’t just bad idea. Or even a good idea gone horribly wrong. Pepsi knew what they were doing and they did it anyway. They just put a movement on its knees, shot one off in its face, while boasted about what a smart, sexy brand they were. Then they looked at our faces and told us we look pretty that way. Think about that.

Then throw that blue can in the trash, and start on those eight glasses of water your mama and the doctor recommend.

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Julian Long avatar About the author: Julian Long* loves hard, that’s just what he does. And he writes about what he loves. You can support his writing on Patreon. He’s on FB if you can find him or you could hit up his twitter – @magnet4awesome – but it’s dusty.

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