Profiting Off of Activism


Today, Pepsi had the brilliant idea of releasing a new ad that featured Kendall Jenner. In this commercial, Pepsi attempts to show us that we are all one marching together for what is “right.” In its attempt at solidarity, Pepsi demonstrated how tone-deaf the company really is in the era of resistance. In one scene from the commercial, Kendall Jenner, after removing her blonde wig — a symbolic gesture to show she has become “woke” and is at her wit’s end — offers a police officer a can of Pepsi so he can cool off.

Unsurprisingly, and fortunately, the backlash has been swift and unrelenting. But Pepsi’s actions should come as no surprise, the inherent and unquestionable sanctity of policing is a bedrock of American culture. By now, we all know that the purported purity of the shield immunizes the institution from legitimate criticisms of it systemic abuses of power. At any rate, the photo of a white woman handing an officer a can of soda during a “protest movement” (if y’all want to call it that) and not fearing for her life illustrates the divergent racial perceptions of black and white communities. According to Pew, Blacks are much less confident in local police than Whites are.

Blacks are much less confident in local police than Whites are.

Pepsi’s actions show that white “allies” are not listening to black people when they point out how their actions are problematic. Or maybe, there aren’t very many allies in corporate America to begin with.

Today brands recognize that activism is the new cool thing to do. In a world where the policies of Donald Trump threaten the environment, criminal justice reform, the budget, and our constitutional rights, people are drawing a line. Uber famously found this out. Consumers draw comfort from knowing that the companies they support also support issues important to them. It is an added plus that legitimizes one’s patronage and feeds one’s appetite for activism. Smartly, Pepsi recognized society’s desire to resist with the minimal effort required. Foolishly, it thought that support for these causes is not rooted in genuine beliefs. The greatest takeaway from Pepsi’s campaign is that the social-minded consumer should be highly cynical of any commercial form of “wokeness.” The first, second, third, fourth and fifth goal of every corporation is still to maximize profits. No good deed goes uncompensated. I’m not sure how long this trend will last, but I hope it continues. If nothing else, it signifies that corporations realize that people are starting to care again.

Bonus: Twitter spent the entire evening exposing the many contradictions of this Ad. Thank you, Twitter. See Below