Pepsi is pulling its new ad featuring Kendall Jenner stepping into a protest after the image of Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi and stopping the protest sparked a debate on social media.
"Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize," PepsiCo said in a statement today on its website. "We did not intend 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."
The ad shows Jenner, a 21-year-old model and reality TV star, ditching a high-fashion photo shoot to wade into a protest happening on the streets below. Jenner then appears to bring an end to the protest by sharing a Pepsi with a police officer.
When the officer drinks the Pepsi, the crowd erupts in applause.
The ad was posted on Pepsi Global's YouTube channel on Monday but has since been removed from the site. A description below the video described the commercial as "a short film about the moments when we decide to let go, choose to act, follow our passion and nothing holds us back."
Critics called out the ad for being in bad taste, specifically the police officer scene, which they said was a cultural appropriation of the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
Social media users made comparisons between the image of Jenner and the police officer to a widely-circulated photo of "Black Lives Matter" protester Ieshia Evans when she approached police at a July 2016 demonstration in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
how nice of Kendall Jenner to stop in the middle of her photo shoot to end social injustices by giving that cop a Pepsi ?? MLK who? Rosa who?— reggie (@1942bs) April 4, 2017
Twitter users also called the video "tasteless" and said the ad takes advantage of "serious issues and movements to sell soda."
I've been studying commercials for 30 years. Kendall's Pepsi ad is legitimately the worst one I've ever seen.— Joseph Kahn (@JosephKahn) April 4, 2017
The protest ad likely came from a desire by Pepsi to be more relevant with a younger demographic, according to Larry Hackett, an entertainment expert and a former editor-in-chief of People magazine.
"You can imagine the meeting where Pepsi was saying, ‘We need to be more relevant. Young people aren’t drinking enough soda. They’re drinking pomegranate juice and sports drinks. Let’s get relevant,'" Hackett said today on "Good Morning America." "So people went back and they looked at their focus group interviews and they looked at their bar graphs about the various metrics of what young people want."
He continued, "It was created in some Frankenstein lab of advertising and this is what you ended up with. What Pepsi wanted was relevance and association with young people. They’re now going to become the laughingstock of young people."
Hackett predicts the backlash will not hurt Jenner as the face of the soda company, but will be a warning for marketers.
"She’s just in the commercial. This isn’t her fault," Hackett said of Jenner. "I think it’s going to be a cautionary tale for a lot of other marketers who have to be very careful about how they try to sell things."