An advertising expert weighs in on the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad.

Less than one week on from the release and subsequent retraction of Pepsi’s latest advertisement – you know, the one where Kendall Jenner leads a protest and hands a police officer a can of Pepsi as a peace offering – people are still scratching their heads, collecting their jaws from the floor wondering how on earth the soft drink giant’s campaign ever actually got approved.

“The first time I watched it, I actually thought it might be a joke,” RMIT advertising lecturer Kerin Elsum tells me when I ask her about the ad on Friday.

“I literally don’t know how it got through,” she continues. “All I can think of is that you’ve got a group of short-sighted older people in Pepsi and they’re just not with what’s happening out there in the world and just didn’t predict the backlash.”

The two-and-a-half minute ad, which was conceptualised and produced by Pepsi’s in-house advertising team and amassed over 5.5 million views in just two days, is rumoured to have cost up to US $5 million to produce.

Loosely referencing a number of historic social movements, the ad fails not just because it’s insanely tone deaf and simplistic, but because it tries to do too much in one short space.

It tries to reach too many people and stand for every social movement. It wants a social media generation but also the older social activists too.

kendall jenner pepsi ad
Kendall Jenner in the now pulled Pepsi ad. Source: Youtube.

"It's not so much that all of the messages in the ad were bad," Elsum says, "it's more that the execution of it is really pathetic. If you're going to be bold enough to do that, do it properly."

"There were too many narratives in there that just didn't work and it was opportunistic to try and go off the whole demonstration thing. If you look at  it, they've almost tried to put every stereotype into it; to me it's almost like a joke," Elsum says, adding, "They've obviously done some research to try and tie the ad in with other moments in history, but they've just really missed the mark. It's the wrong way of going about it."


The other major problem the ad faces, according to Elsum, is that Pepsi are clearly still marching to the beat of a now dead drum.

kendall jenner pepsi ad
Protestors taking part in the soft drink social revolution. Source: Youtube.

"As an industry, advertising is really lost," Elsum says.

Gone are the days of selling a product through aspirational narratives and lofty ambition. Now people want to know the use and purpose of something. They want to know what it will do to their lives, how it will quantifiably change their everyday. What the company selling said product stands for. What it believes in. But major companies, Pepsi included, don't seem to know how to evolve to meet the new generation's brief.

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"It used to be that if you spent more money you'd get more sales; it was an easy calculation, whereas it's not like that anymore. And I think this ad really demonstrates that they [the industry] doesn't quite know what to do and they're doing things the way they used to do it, and yet the narrative doesn't filter through to what's happening in real life."

In other words, the idea that any publicity is good publicity is dead.

Now, all we can do is sit back and wait to see what Pepsi's sales figures are. Only then will we know whether or not the campaign succeeded.

What did you think of Pepsi's latest ad?