Pepsi has not quenched the world’s thirst for an explanation of exactly what their marketing department was thinking with that now-pulled protest-themed ad starring Kendall Jenner. Treated as a good idea by who knows how many decision-makers at the soda conglomerate, and approximately zero members of the general public, the commercial will surely one day be taught in advertising courses as an example of what not to do.
It’s even more perplexing considering that the idea of shooting a soft drink ad set at some sort of protest was an idea that was lambasted 18 years ago, as Rosario Dawson quickly pointed out.
After all, she had starred in The Chemical Brothers’ music video that had done just that. The clip was for “Out of Control,” the fourth single from the big beat group’s 1999 album Surrender, and featured vocals from New Order bassist Bernard Sumner. Dawson was the first to make the connection on Twitter.
Indeed, the video stars Dawson and actor Michael Brown as two, young revolutionaries who can’t seem to keep their hands off each other even as they’re fighting an army that represents a ruling class that can’t seem to keep its hands off the means of production. Indeed, the Mexico City shot clip took its visual cues from the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, an actual leftist revolutionary group active in Mexico during the ’90s.
Oh, right, the two stars also can’t seem to get enough of the fictional soda Viva.
The video climaxes as Dawson distracts an approaching battalion of armed men in riot cop formation by sexily chugging down the soda. Meanwhile, Brown’s character sneaks up on them and launches a Molotov cocktail in a soda glass.
Except, surprise, turns out it’s just a soda advertisement, and the protesters and armed forces wind up all happily chugging down the “100% chemical” drink together in the end. Until of course the camera pulls out to reveal the ad was playing in an electronics store window right before another protest.
There exists no deep dives or think pieces into the music video’s meaning on the easily searchable internet, nor any interviews with anyone involved, but it’s not hard to imagine what the joke of the video was supposed to be.
The youth of the time was notoriously disillusioned with advertising and keenly aware of marketing manipulation, so brands tried to reach the young Gen X and older Millennial youth with untraditional “guerrilla advertising” and “rebel marketing.” In fact, the music video would have been shot just a few years after Coca Cola’s notoriously failed attempt to launch OK Soda, which they tried to aim squarely at the counter culture youth through supposedly quirky and offbeat marketing.
The joke of the video: “What if brands went a step forward and used actual guerrilla rebel imagery in their advertising?” Such a ’90s electro music video concept.
Today’s teens seem to be a bit more chill with being marketed to. As a Google study recently informed us, cool teens absolutely love their cool brands. “Gen Z believe and rely on brands to shape their world,” the report informs us. (Incidentally, the teens actually think that Pepsi is pretty cool. It got a “cool score” of 6.5, making it cooler than Beats by Dre, Forever 21 and Buzzfeed. Or at least it was until before the Jenner ad).
There’s no excusing the advertisement, but you can at least imagine why Pepsi thought it might be a good idea to earnestly connect with young consumers in this kind of way. Indeed, Pepsi is far from the first brand to try to leverage some vague commitment to social justice alongside the popularity of a young influencer, they just were misguided in their approach. Whereas past generations didn’t want to know they were being marketed to at all, Gen Z might be a little bit more open to it if the brand presents itself in a way that’s authentic, relatable and representative of sharing their values. Pepsi, though, just seemingly put this information into a blender alongside a lot of buzzwords and trending tropics.
What we’re left with is an ad intended for Gen Z that is a surreal unintentional remake of a video taking the piss out of advertising from a Gen X and Gen Y perspective.
Of course, it’s advertisers themselves that like to perpetuate the idea that different generations respond to advertising differently, but the truth of the matter is no generation wants tone-deaf, appropriative marketing.
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