Four Serious Questions about the Kendall Jenner Pepsi Commercial

4 min read

That Pepsi spot. You know the one we mean.

1. Did anybody actually like it? Apparently, a lot of people did. According to a national tracking poll released yesterday by Morning Consult (download it here), 44 percent of viewers had a more favorable view of Pepsi after watching the spot, while only 28 percent had a more favorable view of Kendall Jenner. In fact, 75 percent of  Latino viewers and 51 percent of black viewers said the spot made a positive impression. A minority of whites—41%—said the spot influenced them favorably.

Still—that’s four out of ten, and nearly half the survey overall, who said they came away with a more favorable impression of the brand. The response of the viewers unwittingly echoes the political divide in America that the creative was attempting to exploit, albeit in a very different way.

On that note, check out this fascinating video provided by Morning Consult that tracks Republican and Democratic reactions to the spot in real time. One thing that apparently brings us all together: Watch how both lines dip whenever Kendall appears.


2. Was Pepsi too quick to pull the ad? Probably not. Even though a lot of people apparently liked it, the spot has been savagely mocked and widely derided by both the politically correct left and the get-over-it right. The spot was tone deaf not only because it trivialized serious political movements, stereotyped the people it was trying to influence, and made Kendall’s woke moment more about getting a smile from a hot Asian guy with a cello than whatever vague protest march was in progress; it also offended anyone who reacts with fear, bewilderment, and disgust at Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March.

Also: Pepsi’s apology was a little weird. It was brief and straightforward—and then apologized to Kendall Jenner “for putting [her] in this position.” Presumably, Kendall understood the concept, took the job, and made a lot of money. She also allegedly really liked it.

3. Would an ad agency have let this happen? The offending ad was produced not by an ad agency, but by Pepsi’s in-house agency, Creators League Studio. Fairly or unfairly, there’s been a lot of industry chatter  about the insularity of in-house shops, and the corporate chain of command that blesses this sort of thing—and how a real ad agency would never have let it happen.

Is the criticism fair? Yes and no. Ad agencies are capable of doing plenty of tone-deaf, offensive work all on their own. As with every profession, some of us are really smart and great at what we do…and most of us are less. Just because this was done by an in-house group doesn’t mean all in-house groups are bad or any agency could have done better. We work with lots of excellent in-house people. We know lots of bad agencies.

But it also doesn’t mean there isn’t some validity to the argument. We can give you all sorts of good reasons to hire an ad agency, even if you have some in-house communications expertise. Perhaps chief among them is the outside perspective we bring. The best agencies aren’t afraid to challenge their clients to do great work. They also aren’t shy about sharing their opinions about what constitutes great work, and about client-driven work that isn’t in the brand’s best interest. We’ve actually resigned accounts because we disagreed with the tone and the quality of the work our clients wanted us to do. Any ad agency worth its salt should be willing to do the same.

4. Is there a great spot lurking in there somewhere? Maybe. Companies such as Benetton and Apple and Nike have long traded in political and “revolutionary” imagery. Diesel‘s David LaChapelle-directed, supermodel-infused spot traded on the zeitgeist without offending too many people.


So yes, it’s possible. You can co-opt revolutionary sentiment to sell your product, and do it far more elegantly than Pepsi did. The Pepsi spot was embarrassing for so many reasons—not the least of which was that moment at which the suddenly woke Kendall removes her wig, shakes out her hair, and tosses the wig at a black assistant without so much as a glance. The perpetrators seemed blissfully unaware of ugliness hidden in their all-Millennial, protest-as-dance-party fantasy world.

Then again, maybe there’s a simple rule we can all follow: If it seems exploitive, it probably is.

Also: When you have Janelle Monae on your side, why do you need to mess with Kendall Jenner?