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Our protest, not your product

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By Kaylen Forsyth

These are exhausting times for activists. In the past six months alone, with Trump’s repressive policies causing global outrage, there has been plenty of injustice to challenge. Vast numbers taking to the streets, and to other platforms like social media, reflect the broader courage of a society unwilling to just accept things as they are.

Such strength in the face of adversity is nothing new. For years an array of people from all different nations have been raising their voices when others have wished for their silence. And there has often been a price to pay for this bravery. During the Black Lives Matter protests, the news was inundated with reports of police brutality and unnecessary arrests. This all culminates into a simple fact I’m sure everyone can agree on – the resilience and endurance of activists should not be undermined in any way.

But this is exactly what Pepsi have done. Their new advertisement uses the setting of an American protest as a marketing ploy. And it’s not the first time a billion dollar corporation has exploited literal blood, sweat and tears for their own capitalistic gains. Coca Cola used the anger surrounding the Vietnam War to sell their produce back in 1971. It seems the top 10% take no issue in exploiting the struggles of those without silver-spoon privilege. This, of course, comes as no surprise.

Pepsi’s advertisement features Kendall Jenner striding out into the midst of a mainstream-friendly protest. After high-fiving and fist-bumping a diverse range of people (who don’t seem all too concerned with their cause), she hands a police officer a can of Pepsi. He smiles, satisfied, and everybody on the scene bursts into cheers. There is no ill will in sight. Everyone is ecstatic and social inequality is forgotten. Who cares what they were protesting about in the first place? Who cares that Trump will harm the U.S. even further in the next four years and other countries along with it? Who cares that the death toll is only rising in a chemical weapons attack in Syria? Who cares that we seem to be going backwards in terms of social progression? Who cares that politics is falling apart on a global scale? So long as the Pepsi is all right… the white man is happy … and the wealthy can keep rolling in the cash.

Of course this was not the message the advertisement attempted to portray. The intention, according to the company, was given in a defensive quote released by Pepsi: “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.”

Whether the intent was decent or not, the fact still remains, Pepsi hijacked the resistance movement with no other motivation than commodifying it. Worse – they did it through the Trojan horse of an inconceivably privileged model, and the entire two and a half minutes is as apolitical as possible. There is no sign calling for equal rights or an end to discrimination. Phrases like “join the conversation” serve the purpose of being as vague as possible. Pepsi is desperate not to alienate.

Overall the advertisement just screams privilege and out-of-touch. A white person encouraging “bold” interactions with police officers, in a country where people of colour are murdered by them on a regular basis. That’s uncomfortable. Not only this, appropriating activism for the purpose of marketing is in itself despicable.

The most recent statement released highlights the pressures to pull the ad: “Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

The only hope is that corporations think twice in future when they consider exploiting such serious matters.

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