After Uproar, Pepsi Halts Rollout Of Controversial Protest-Themed Ad

April 5, 2017

It was about unity, Pepsi explained. But the company’s new ad, set at a protest march, was quickly called out for being tone-deaf, offensive, and perhaps worst of all for the brand: not “woke.”

The ad, which stars model and Kardashian sister Kendall Jenner, had been slated for a worldwide release. But Pepsi announced today that it would halt any further rollout of the ad. “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding,” the company said in a statement received by the Associated Press. “Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.”

The company removed the ad from its YouTube channel on Wednesday afternoon, where it had garnered at least 1.3 million views in two days.

At least for now, the ad – all two minutes, 39 seconds, is still viewable on Jenner’s YouTube channel.

The ad features a diverse cadre of young, happy protesters holding signs splashed with calls for peace, love, and in one odd instance, to “Join the conversation.”

In the ad’s key scene, Jenner hands a can of ice-cold Pepsi to a police officer, who accepts it and takes a sip, to raucous cheers from protesters.

But on the Internet, the reaction was fierce. Many saw the ad’s climactic hand-a-cop-a-Pepsi moment as referencing – and exploiting – an important image from the Black Lives Matter movement — when a woman calmly, summer dress fluttering, stood before heavily equipped police in Baton Rouge, La.:

In general, Pepsi was accused of trying to sell soda using the setting and symbolism of recent protests, such as those against police brutality.

AdAge reports that the spot was created by Pepsi’s in-house creative team, Creators League.

The company initially stood behind the ad. Earlier, Pepsi told Adweek in a statement: “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.”

The soda company may not be the last brand to try to invoke the protests and “resistance” ethos that are hallmarks of this political moment. But this ad may be one textbook example of what not to do.

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