Opinion: What do millennials think about that controversial Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad?

The Media Rewind J101 mass communication students at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media provide weekly blog posts on media-related topics.

The class goal is to better understand how the media influences society, and how society influences the media. Students sometimes do this by discussing subjects relevant to their generation.

Last week, students were asked to share their thoughts about the controversial Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad. Recap for those who may not be familiar with it: Pepsi recently released an ad featuring Kendall Jenner as a high fashion model who rips off a blonde wig and joins a large crowd of diverse protesters marching down a city street. When they confront a row of police officers, Jenner hands them a Pepsi, and the crowd cheers.

The class, comprised of about 80 students from all over the country, have diverse perspectives, socially and politically. While many students were offended by the Pepsi ad and felt the soda company was minimizing serious issues, such as the Black Lives Matter movement that has gained traction through widely publicized protests, others saw the ad as a positive attempt by Pepsi to showcase a diverse group of people and promote the idea of unity.

Some said they were offended by Kendall Jenner’s “white savior” role in the commercial, while others said the commercial backlash was the result of our society’s “outrage culture” fueled by social media.

Here are some of their thoughts:

“As progressive as our nation has become, and our recent history with violence and protests, it shocks me that Pepsi had the audacity to ridicule protesters that way. People protest because they feel passionate about an issue, not for an exciting activity on a Saturday morning, and Pepsi blatantly disrespected that … Why couldn’t Pepsi just stick to a thirsty father at a backyard barbecue, or something less controversial and more relatable?” – Elliot Sudduth

“In an attempt to court a politically active younger demographic, Pepsi may have instead set them off. A new ad for the soft drink stars Kendall Jenner as a high fashion model, donning a blonde wig in the midst of a protest. It’s not clear what the protest is supposed to be about. Many of the signs read general phrases like “Join the conversation” and “love.”

“Beckoned by one of the protesters, Jenner eventually rips off her blonde wig and joins the fray. Grabbing a can of Pepsi, she heads toward one of the grim-faced police officers, and hands him a drink. He accepts and smiles, eliciting cheers from the crowd.

“Although Pepsi tried to connect to young consumers, they used a very sensitive subject to do so, and completely missed the idea. They were insensitive and have now created quite a scandal. Many have bonded because of their disappointment with Pepsi and their marketing ploys.” – Emily Reynolds

My thoughts on the ad were changed completely after seeing it in class … Prior to watching it, I was under the impression that it oversimplified the problems America is facing today. After watching it … While the commercial did somewhat “dance around” the sensitive topic of riots, police brutality, etc., I feel like they did it in a very respectful manner. They did not go into any detail about the “issue” being protested. They also had a diverse crowd that was representative of every social background. I don’t see anything “horrible” about using the Pepsi can as a symbol of peace between the police and protesters. – Chauncey Taylor

“Last week, social media burst into outrage over Pepsi’s commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. The commercial was meant to feature images of unity and peace. However, as with most well-intentioned media content, it was picked apart, misconstrued, and ripped to shreds on all social media platforms.

“The commercial was eventually withdrawn, and Pepsi released an apology statement regarding the content that reads: ‘Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not mean to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.’

“While it is clear that Pepsi attempted to capitalize on protest culture (That is: They attempted to make money from the current trendiness of protests and social justice – as countless other brands have done), they produced a well-intentioned advertisement featuring people of various races, religions, sexualities, and other background types containing images of unity and peace.

“However, with current tension in the political and social climate and our blossoming trend of outrage culture, Pepsi chose the wrong time to support any social issue. Today, people search for some element of insensitivity in every ad, social media post, television show, etc.

“While Pepsi intended to produce a commercial (featuring a celebrity endorsement) that supported a universal cause (unity among all people), the soda conglomerate missed one crucial point: People want to be angry at something.

“Social media users (millennials in particular) tend to search for fault in most benign advertising content. Despite the fact that the commercial seemed extremely well thought out and inclusive, users continue to respond that the commercial was insensitive, non-inclusive, and discriminatory.

“Users have accused Pepsi of “making light” of social justice causes, such as Black Lives Matter. However, upon serious analysis of the content, the commercial clearly was not meant as a Black Lives Matter piece, but rather as a marketing vehicle to promote both the product (Pepsi soda) and global unity (of all groups).” – Mary Elizabeth High

“In present day, it seems to me like we always have to have something to fuss or be upset about, and I think the commercial is just an example of one of the many things that we try to find issue with when there shouldn’t be an issue … All in all, I believe it is just a huge mess and good intentions gone wrong. – Taylor Harbour

“I did not see an issue at all in this ad. You can say that I’m blind to subliminal racism or insensitive to issues in society, but an outrage at this ad is both dramatic, childish, and a revelation of your own insecurities mixed with a mob mentality. …If one or two people call racism to something, it then becomes socially necessary to agree with them or face the consequence of being a ‘racist’ … It picks up steam like a domino effect. …

“In class, many paralleled Kendall Jenner in the Pepsi commercial to a woman in the Black Lives Matter protest being apprehended by Baton Rouge Police back in 2016. However, I did not see this parallel that my peers witnessed.

“If anything, the Pepsi commercial parallels the Vietnam protests at the Pentagon, more specifically when the woman places flowers in the officers’ guns. That’s what I connected the commercial to – the most famous image of a protest in American history.

“Overall, this ad depicted neither racism or insensitivity. Many people are just conscripted to follow the masses and unable to form their own opinions … So take a step back. Was this ad really that striking to you? An ad by Pepsi? Or were you susceptible to finding an issue with the ad because others were finding issue? If you’re looking for a problem/issue, you’re going to find one, and that’s with anything, any topic.” – Patrick Chacone

“Jenner is one of the last people anyone would think of to help “stop” police brutality, and making it seem as though handing an officer a soda would solve all of the problems was just a slap in the face and slightly offensive to anyone this issue affects.” – Lexi McCoy

“Kendall glides through the crowd, walks past the barriers blocking police and crowd, and hands one of the police officers a Pepsi. This has the African American community going crazy, because, if it were this simple, maybe Rodney King wouldn’t have gotten beaten so bad? Or maybe all of the protests that black people attend, they wouldn’t get arrested or anything like that if they would just hand the cops a cold soda.

“The thought process behind this commercial wasn’t well put together because they didn’t think about how other communities would feel. The first time I watched the commercial, I was shocked. ‘Wow, they really did this?’ That was my exact thought. It’s a slap in the face to everyone who has ever been arrested or been beaten or killed for just standing up for their rights.” – Alexis T. Rhoden

“Because (Kendall Jenner) is white and wealthy, she has no idea about the kinds of struggles minorities and protestors endure, and she would never need to protest for any of her rights. It was disrespectful for Pepsi to focus on a person who cannot relate to those who actually struggle. Also, the simple act of a girl handing a police officer a Pepsi, which seems to resolve conflict, undermines the seriousness of actual protests and parallels protesting with a trivial, easy action.” – Shanleigh Roberts

“I found Pepsi’s commercial, starring Kendall Jenner of all people, as some casually angelic race reconciliator interrupting a crowd of protesters, apparently out of ideas (but beautifully multicultural), to be many things. And all of them are bad. Horribly naive.

“The commercial tells me that, whoever thought up this ridiculous scene, none of them considered what protests of police brutality have been like in the recent past.

“In Baton Rouge, I wonder if a protester should simply have walked up to the line of advancing, military-supplied policemen with a nice peace-keeping Pepsi? Then surely that delicious, refreshing taste would have brought everyone to their senses.

“The police would have been like, ‘Oh, wow, you guys are alright.’ And then the protesters would have been all like, ‘See? Now you get it.’ And nobody would have been arrested or intimidated that evening. The police would have shed their gas masks and retreated with their armored trucks, and all the angry and hurt protesters would have collectively chilled.

“Corporate pandering. Check out that crowd. So diverse and multicultural! Wildly insulting. Look! This is all you need! This beautiful, exotic looking white girl with a smile and a Pepsi! All you need is this white savior to come rescue your cause!

“She doesn’t even have to be involved with BLM or race relations in any way at all! Hell, she can be the complete opposite: An insanely privileged model daughter in an extremely rich white family known for appropriating physical features of other races!

“It’s one thing to trivialize protests in a Pepsi commercial. But they did a “whole nother” (appalling) thing by making Kendall Jenner the face of the commercial.” – Brantley Meaders

“How the producers perceive our generation – You can almost see they believe millennials wake up, decide to protest, but do not really have a purpose, and just try to cause drama.” – Hannah Humphreys

“In the first shot, we are shown a cellist, followed by a shot of a group of protestors marching together through the streets. From there, we are shown a frustrated Muslim girl, struggling to find the perfect picture that describes word harmony. Lastly, we see Kendall Jenner posing for a shoot she’s doing right next to the march.

“After the single shots of people, we see them all collide for one cause – togetherness. As Kendall leaves her shoot to join the rebellion, we see her grab a Coke and take charge, marching head-on towards the police officer.

“As she hands the can of Pepsi to the officer, we witness a moment of greatness, the power of kindness. Even though it wasn’t a grand gesture, it shows that no matter how big, it still can create bond between the two groups of people. The Pepsi advertisement shows us that even though they may be a second place soda beverage, they’re a company that strives for something greater, they strive for unity.” – Samantha Stephans

“The commercial is getting more attention than the gas attack in Syria. This is not right. Pepsi should have taken a different approach with the commercial, but what’s happening in Syria should make people just as outraged, if not more.” – Destiny Walsh

“Protesting has been occurring for centuries. People gather together on the basis of a social issues, and to be heard by their government. These events are long, hard, done in all types of weather, and are not always peaceful. Many end in bloodshed, gunfire, and even massacre.

“But what if we could fix it all with a Pepsi? That’s what Pepsi seems to think with their new commercial. Take a celebrity who wants to help, put her in street clothes, stock her up with carbonated, unhealthy drinks, tell her to pass it to a police officer and – boom. No more protesting. No more social issues. A celeb has saved the day.

“This commercial is a slap to every protest done by humans. It disrespects those who lose their lives or were injured for important causes and trivializes a process that has the power to evoke real change in government. It completely ignores the common man fighting for change and replaces it with a reality TV model. Do better Pepsi. You clearly weren’t thinking.” – Brittney N. Jackson

“While Pepsi was simply trying to convey a message of unity and peace within our country, they opened up a can of worms that should’ve been left closed.” – Abby Vance

“I don’t mean to sound insensitive here, but I think everyone overreacted with this ad. This is what the internet is best at. The internet loves to misinterpret things and connect some sort of imaginary puzzle that gets everyone believing a certain thing. It happens all the time. One person says how they feel about something. Another adds their two cents. And like dominoes, the entire internet falls right behind it.

“According to the director of photography for the Pepsi commercial, Bjorn Charpentier, the big climax in the ad between Kendall Jenner and the cop does indeed hearken back to a protest picture, but definitely not one from recent years. It was actually a throwback to the 1967 image titled The Ultimate Confrontation: The Flower and the Bayonet, the iconic photograph taken during an organized march at the Pentagon to protest the United States’ role in the Vietnam War.

USA. Washington DC. 1967. Jan Rose Kasmir confronts the American National Guard during the 1967 anti-Vietnam march.

“The pic shows then 17-year-old Jan Rose Kasmir calmly holding a chrysanthemum while standing before a line of soldiers armed with bayonets. Of course, there are similarities between the two photos, but if people would research first, the whole internet could save itself from imploding over nothing.

“Charpentier did an ad in 2014, a year before the Baton Rouge protest, centered around the photo of Jan Rose Kasmir, so it’s not uncommon of him to think to do it again. But hey, you can’t tell the internet anything. It will believe what it wants to believe, and that’s just the way it is.” – Brandon Hancock

“The negative reactions Pepsi has gotten from this commercial prove that serious social issues should not be used as a means of advertising for any company or organization. The issues featured in the Pepsi commercial are much too controversial to be used as any form of entertainment.” – Emma Gaddy

“Taking a look at Instagram, I saw memes about the Pepsi commercial. One of the memes posted Kendall Jenner right beside Martin Luther King Jr. in a march …

“An image of a Black Lives Matter protester resembles the image of Kendall giving the officer a Pepsi. The difference was she was arrested, and her brave act didn’t end the protest and make everything all right.

“Pepsi appropriated protesting for the purpose of selling their soda. That is why this commercial is offensive to those who actually protest for a cause they care deeply about.” – Jyesha Johnson

Jonathan Bachman, a New Orleans-based photographer for, took this picture of Ieshia Evans, during the Baton Rouge protests.

“Using the setting of a protest made it seem like it was just a big party. It was something that could be joined in or left at any time. Protests are pretty serious and are taken that way by the people who participate in them. They have to be well thought out and planned.” – Elizabeth Toso

“We see a commercial that highlights cultural diversity and represents a very relevant topic, and it is a problem? It is all about the intention of the viewer to decide the impact of this message.

“I think the ad by Pepsi is very moving and carefully constructed. Being brave enough to shine light on such a controversial topic is something only a company like Pepsi could make OK.

“The ad represents someone whom is living a very different life, joining a group due to common beliefs, and Jenner walks literally with them. At the end of the ad, when Jenner hands the soda to one of the officers, he drinks it, and the crowd cheers.

“What is wrong with that? It is a very simple message, and it seems everyone else is so sensitive about it. Pepsi is representing how great Pepsi is, and how it can bring together different cultures and lifestyles, but it also mends disagreements, such as that between officer and marcher.

“There is nothing wrong with the ad, and I personally think it is probably one of the most effective ads going right now, as it is relevant to pop culture and politics. If this ad bothers you, then you are letting your sensitivity and negativity get the best of you. It is a very clear, easy to understand message about the greatness of a canned drink. Don’t overthink it.” – Amanda Haley

“It seems that Pepsi is trying to reach out to younger generations by directing a fun, party scene, with a familiar celebrity face (Kendall Jenner), dancing, and a catchy and upbeat song. But I think they tried a bit to hard to give the commercial a light-hearted, entertaining feel, and ultimately made a very serious and important topic seem almost frivolous and trivial.” – Keely Paxton

“Watching the commercial individually, there didn’t seem to be an outstanding issue. Yet going to social media, I saw everyone absolutely eating up the piece.

“Pepsi took a swing at the subject of unity, something we have yet to accomplish, and ended up splitting us up further. Especially when the world is in a place of social, political and racial injustice, there is no reason to make a show of ‘how easy’ it could be to fix it.

“It showed issues, and then solved it with a drink, which obviously is not the solution, and upset a lot of online peanut galleries. There are some issues that are just too big for soda to fix. Better luck next time, Pepsi.” – Alexis Elmore

“I have no personal issues with the way the Pepsi commercial was presented. It was a method of uniting diverse groups through one common love for the drink of Pepsi. Diversity has always been a sensitive topic, as well as race and ethnicity. To see people with no similarities other than being human unite because of one drink is exaggerated, but good for advertisement.” – Andranita Williams

“If one of their concerns was featuring a societal issue, such as police brutality, they should have been more selective about who they chose to be the protagonist of their commercial.

“They had a wide variety of options of celebrities that have actually spoken out against police brutality: Beyonce, John Legend, Serena Williams, Sophia Bush, Sheryl Crow, and the list goes on. I think there were much better candidates than Kendall Jenner …

“I’ve always believed that our media is a reflection of our society, not the other way around. I still believe that … The problem is rarely the media. The problem is us.” – Abby Tait

“Making a policeman happy could be offensive to some who have dealt with police brutality. The separate stories within the video have no relevancy to Pepsi or the story. I think Pepsi was trying to do something similar to the 1970s Coke commercial: ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke.'” – Addis Olive

“The Pepsi commercial is another ill-fated attempt of corporations attempting to appeal to a younger audience. Pepsi views the millennial generation as social-justice warriors who use our free time to protest various issues. They ignore the fact that a majority of millennials don’t partake in demonstrations or even post online about politics.

“One can only deduce the commercial was created by 50-year-old men in suits who gather all their knowledge on this generation based on what they watch on CNN or Fox News … Pepsi is very disconnected with the millennial generation and needs to pay closer attention to social media and other outlets millennials use.” – William Nash

The real effectiveness of this protest-based ad is that it nearly launched a protest.” – Jack Hall

“(The commercial is) just one more thing for the liberal left to be offended over. I understand what Pepsi was trying to accomplish. Did it work? Not so much. The purpose of any commercial is to make the consumer want to buy their product. In my opinion, it was a well made commercial. Did it make me want to drink a Pepsi? Not in the slightest. I believe Pepsi had good intentions and wasn’t trying to offend anyone. The society we live in is almost too sensitive to function, and the people who should not be offended in the slightest are out looking for reasons to start a fire. I do not believe it was as big of a deal as people have made it seem. People are always looking for a reason to be offended.” – Betsy Veasey

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