By now you’ve probably seen the Kendall Jenner pepsi ad and read over one thousand think pieces on how stupid, “tone deaf,” and just generally fucked it was. As far as that debate goes, we have already participated and have nothing left to add. However, now that the dust is settling and the post-Pepsi hangover is finally kicking in, we have to ask the one question that is on any amateur conspiracy theorist’s mind: did Pepsi do this on purpose for attention?
As betches, we all know how to recognize when someone is doing something just for attention. We spotted it when Madeline wore that “desperate” look to the Audrey & Elvis party, and we can spot it now. Plus, as avid followers of the Kardashians, we know that anything, literally anything, involving that family is meticulously planned out in a secret underground Beverly Hills bunker and approved by Kris Jenner herself. Kendall has not taken a shit in the past 21 years without Kris’ approval, so there’s no way she didn’t know about this.
But like, what do media people say about this? Well, they’re divided. In a story published by the LA Times, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants Eric Schiffer said “I think [Pepsi] played it the way they intended to, adding that the “net effect” of the ad was positive “because the world is talking about it.”
It’s kind of like that one week in high school when I caused a brief scandal by dumping one member of the Oakton High School theater community to go to homecoming with a different (more handsome) member of the Oakton Theater community. Were people calling me a slut behind my back? Sure. But was I also the talk of the town just in time for one of OHS’ most important fall social events? You fucking know it.
And here’s the thing: Pepsi is no stranger to pulling controversial ads aimed at young people. In 1989, Madonna (woman from the eighties who made out with Britney at the VMAS) teamed up with Pepsi during the Grammy’s to debut her song “Like A Prayer” with a two minute Pepsi commercial, which was also supposed to announce that Pepsi would be sponsoring Mads’ next world tour. But then, after the official “Like A Prayer” video was released and featured Madonna dancing in front of burning crosses and having interracial sex in a church pew (casual), Pepsi was forced to pull the ad and cancel Madonna’s contract.
So like, if Pepsi has fucked up like this once, how could they fuck up like this again? I mean, sure, 1989 is like one whole Taylor Swift ago, but people usually remember when they spark international controversy.
Unless….that’s exactly what Pepsi wanted.
Think about it, when was the last time you were affected by Pepsi in your day-to-day life? When was the last time you even saw someone with a Pepsi? TBH I forgot they existed after they stopped using Britney as their spokeswoman. I’d kind of assumed they were dead. But now, for better or for worse, Pepsi is back in the media again. In that same LA Times article, Schiffer estimated that Pepsi probably earned somewhere between $300 million and $400 million in free media coverage due to their controversial ad. In Kardashian terms, this kind of financial windfall is referred to as “Tuesday.”
In an article called “Pepsi’s New Ad Is A Total Success,” The Atlantic’s Ian Bogost reminds us that “Before it’s an ad for shampoo or cat food or cola, every advertisement is first an ad for capitalism.” And apart from the fact that he sounds exactly like every hipster you dated for like two minutes before realizing he was too annoying to spend time with, Bogost is right. Pepsi got exactly what Pepsi wanted, which is basically for people to be talking about Pepsi.
Again, this goes back to the Shit Talking Principle, which basically states that any person who is being talked shit about is getting attention, thereby they are popular, and thereby they are socially successful. It’s like, Newton’s fifth law or something.
Let’s not forget that this ad had to go through tons of people before it went to air, meaning there were many, many opportunities for someone at Pepsi to say “Hey maybe we shouldn’t suggest that Kendall Jenner solve police brutality with a refreshing Pepsi?” or “Hey guys it doesn’t really make sense that Kendall Jenner would walk off of a modeling set to join a protest that appears to be in favor of nothing.” Are they really trying to get us to believe that a group of some of the highest paid ad execs in the business had no idea the ad would be taken this way? Have they even seen Twitter? You can barely RT a Spongebob meme without some egg coming out of the woodwork to tell you how Spongebob is actually racist because it perpetuates harmful plankton stereotypes. Pepsi had to know this is how the ad would go.
More recently, the same Atlantic piece points out that Pepsi was roasted back in 2009 for a bizarre leaked design strategy that literally compared Pepsi’s new swirly-spiral trademark to The Mona Lisa and was full of batshit diagrams like this:
Wtf is this? What does it mean? Why does the little Pepsi jump us to the future when the big Pepsi is already jumping us to the same future? Whose DNA are they referring to? What is happening in that little white squiggle line that changes the world from convention to innovation? I have so many questions.
So you see, even back in 2009, people were wise to Pepsi’s shady, attention whore behavior (THINKPIECE IDEA: Is Pepsi The Vanessa Of Soft Drinks?) with some media outlets calling the entire thing a “hoax released as part of a ‘viral marketing campaign by the drink firm to get attention from the internet.’”
Bogost ends his Pepspiracy theory by stating, “The genius of this decision is that it satisfies everyone. The Kardashian fanatics got their Kendall Jenner fix. The agitators get to feel that they have successfully redressed a big brand company; a minor victory in a time of so many defeats. The earnest, probably-white folk who enjoyed Pepsi’s alternative to constant politicization got their saccharine status-quo and now they also get a branded excuse to issue a counter-offensive against the progressives who insisted on bringing politics into innocuous soft drinks (surely it’s coming). The media get their scoops, and their think pieces (like this one). And these outcomes, incompatible as though they are all return attention to Pepsi—which is all it really wanted in the first place.”
TL;DR: Pepsi are evil geniuses who found a way to make an ad so stupid that it pissed off everyone, thereby getting attention from everyone, which was the point of the stupid ad in the first place. Please remind me to employ this strategy next time one of my friends think that they can have a wedding that is just a “celebration of love” and isn’t somehow also about me.
Pepsi, whether or not you knew your ad was going to blow up into a heaping trash fire that threatened to engulf the Kardashians along with it, we don’t know, but what we do know is that your shady behavior is hereby noted and that your pettiness level is hereby declared high. Which may or may not have been what you wanted all along.
Now BRB while I use my incredible investigative skills to help solve the crisis in Syria and stop World War III from fucking up our summer vacation. You’re welcome in advance.