Pepsi announced Wednesday that it was yanking its latest advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner and an ambiguous protest story line.
The move comes within 24 hours of the release of the ad, which prompted ridicule and an outcry among critics who viewed the campaign as a failed attempt to appropriate social justice movements in service of selling soft drinks.
“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding,” the company said in a statement Wednesday. “Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.”
Previously, Pepsi defended the advertisement as “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 company said Tuesday night.
But the memes were plenteous and an overwhelming consensus online had formed: This advertisement was not good. By Wednesday afternoon, the company reversed course. “We did not intend to make light of any serious issue,” Pepsi said. “We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”
The full ad has been removed from YouTube, but you can read a second-by-second of breakdown here. This is the gist: For more than two minutes, we see a cellist, a Muslim woman in hijab and Kendall Jenner join a diverse crowd of street protesters who are marching for some nondescript cause. The cops are there. Kendall hands one a Pepsi. Everyone’s happy.
While companies can benefit from the controversy over their seemingly political ad campaigns, usually it’s because there are a handful of people upset by its message while others view it as brave and morally right. But folks across the political spectrum found this Pepsi ad tone-deaf. In particular, those who saw it as an appropriation of the real-life civil rights struggle found the ad in poor taste, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter.