Peace The Pepsi Way

Soda means different things to different people. For some, it is the cheaper option to an energy drink. For health-conscious mothers, it is a no-go zone, especially for their young children, because of the amounts of sugar in it. Others have interesting theories about its proclaimed use as a hair product as it can remove gum from hair, clean hair, and can even be used when starting out dreadlocks. For American multinational food, snack and beverage corporation PepsiCo, a can of soda is more powerful than we think. It is the answer to many problems and it works miracles in conflict resolution.

In their latest advertisement (which the company has taken down and apologized for), PepsiCo recruits model Kendall Jenner to play a protester whose main role is to hand a police officer a can of Pepsi. The advert starts out with Kendall at a photo shoot.  She then sees a group of protesters marching on the streets and is signalled by one of them to join in. She leaves the shoot and joins the protesters, taking the front line. The match then stops after a while and Jenner proceeds to break free from the mass and hand a can of Pepsi to a police officer who readily drinks from the can and nods his approval. Following his appreciation, the protesters break into celebration and are seen jumping up and down as a sign of victory.

Reactions to the advertisement are varied. While some people simply felt that the advert was a show of lack of creativity on PepsiCo’s part and that both Kendall Jenner and PepsiCo should have known better, others found it funny and it has been a great source of material for shows such as The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and even Saturday Night Live (SNL). From others who found the advert distasteful and a slap in the face to those that put their lives on the line matching and fighting for what they believe no matter what, it received a lot of backlash.

Thousands of memes have been created about a can of Pepsi being a solution to a myriad of the world’s problems. In one, Mexicans are advised to buy President Donald Trump a Pepsi to help convince him to rid of his idea of building a wall. In another, the late Dr. Martin Luther King is seen addressing a large crowd of people and raises a hand into which a can of Pepsi has been photo-shopped. In yet another, a female protester grabbed by about three police officers yells out to Kendall to give the officers cans of Pepsi so that they let her go.

Clearly, the advertisement was a failure and it did not achieve its objective of selling the brand Pepsi. But, was the backlash from people really warranted? Could it be that PepsiCo was actually trying to say that love, peace, and unity in the face of difference can be found if the focus is placed on the commonalities that exist among human beings? On July 10th 2016, the Black Lives Matter movement held a rally in Oklahoma City calling for systemic change and understanding through better policing. As the match was ongoing, a young black girl broke free from the mass and walked over to a police officer in sunglasses and with a serious expression on his face. She tucked the sign she was holding under her arm and opened her arms to embrace the officer. He smiled and bent down to hug the girl. A man in the match bumped fists with the officer while other women also hugged the police officer that the young girl had hugged.

The Oklahoma match was aimed at addressing the deaths of black men at the hands of the police not only in the State but in the country generally and acknowledging that not all officers were out to harm and that the only way to heal the country was to work together with the police. It could be that PepsiCo, through their advert was trying to send out the same message and not merely make a mockery of efforts to address issues and trivialize the world’s ongoing problems. It is evident however that those with huge platforms to promote peace and coming together at a time need to tread carefully while playing advocates of peace, love and unity when the world is being rocked by all sorts of woes.

Hawa Gaya