Pepsi (PEP) has withdrawn an ad featuring television personality Kendall Jenner after the spot was slammed for appearing to make light of social justice protests after initially standing by the spot.
The clip, titled “Live For Now Moments Anthem,” depicted 21-year-old Jenner as a model on a shoot who decides to join young protestors before giving a policeman a can of Pepsi, much to the delight of the demonstrators. Pepsi was harshly criticized by many on social media and accused of trivializing anti-police brutality protests by groups like Black Lives Matter. The controversy gained steam on Tuesday, the anniversary of the murder of civil rights icon Martin Luther King in Memphis in 1968.
“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. “We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.” The spot had already been removed from YouTube by early afternoon.
Critics pointed to similarities between the image of Jenner handing the officer a Pepsi and the iconic photo of protester Ieshia Evans approaching a policeman at a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last year. Jenner, a member of the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” reality TV family, is seen dramatically ripping off a blonde wig before joining the protests as if getting an epiphany about the importance of social activism. Pepsi apologized to its new “face of Pepsi” for “putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”
The withdrawal of the ad came only hours after Pepsi said in a statement that they ad was meant to depict “people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony.”
Many on social media vehemently disagreed.
And many ridiculed the choice of Jenner as the central character, saying it was ludicrous to depict her as a civil rights heroine in the same category as icons like Dr. King and Gloria Steinem.
If Pepsi was hoping for a counterpart to Coca Cola’s (KO)classic “I’d like to teach the world to sing,” it will clearly have to try again.