Companies have a tendency to capitalize on every situation or event that comes their way. In 2017, Pepsi attempted to get the most of out the Black Lives Matter movement by creating a protest-themed advert, which to the company’s regret, received considerable backlash on social media because of its controversial content (Victor, 2017).
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Bloom’s first level of taxonomy requires one to know, memorize, repeat and list information. The controversial Pepsi commercial features American television personality and fashion model Kendall Jenner. The ad begins with the sound of a Pepsi can cracking open after which the shot of a young man playing the cello comes into view. Soon after, the view switches to a protest with youth walking down the street while displaying signs of peace.
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The view switches between various scenes around the setting of protest. Each scene focuses on one character at a time, with the professional photographer, Jenner’s character, and the cellist featured as the main characters. As the ad plays on, the protest becomes the center of interest. Finally, Jenner passes through the crowd, advances towards police officers, and passes a Pepsi can to one officer. The photographer takes multiple photographs in response, while the police officer opens and drinks from the can and the crowd cheers enthusiastically (Gonzalez, 2017). In admiration, the photographer drops her camera and hugs a protester in celebration. The advert ends by displaying the expression phrases “Live Bolder,” “Live Louder,” and “Live for Now.”
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Social Media Reaction
Pepsi received a massive backlash in social media circles for attempting to capitalize on imagery believed to be an imitation of the protests in the Black Lives Matter movement. The company was accused of appropriating a racial protest to sell a global fizzy drinks brand as well as of trivializing serious issues.
The brand was also blamed for imitating “Taking a stand in Baton Rouge,” a photograph of a nurse from Pennsylvania who was arrested while approaching the police during a protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2016. Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, was one of those who joined the reaction on social media (Gonzalez, 2017). She remarked, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”
Pepsi responded by pulling down the advert and issuing a statement to the public that read “This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life are coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey”(Gonzalez, 2017). Some took to Twitter to call out Pepsi with satirical posts.
Analysis of the Incident
Bloom’s cognitive level of analysis requires one to analyze, compare, organize, examine, and dissect an issue. Certainly, Pepsi is not the first multinational brand that has attempted to use protest movements and counterculture to sell its product. Coca-Cola attempted a similar stunt in the 1970s. However, it is Pepsi’s advert that revealed clearly what happens when societal ethics and organizational ethics contradict in the business arena. While Pepsi’s original intention was to make financial gains from the advert, no one can dispute that the company wanted to promote peace and harmony. Admittedly, the company may not have chosen the best way of promoting peace, but it did voice its goal of promoting harmony.
Bloom’s evaluation level demands one to judge, infer, evaluate, advise, and recommend. Pepsi provided the best solution at the time. First, it clarified its original intention to the public and then accepted that it had missed the mark and apologized. This was a good strategy for saving its reputation. The incident offers an important lesson for all national and multinational companies regarding capitalizing and appropriating cultural events and social occasions that may have a certain degree of connection with ethics. Businesses should conduct thorough research to assess whether an advert or business action will cause an ethical conflict. Ethical conflicts are not only destructive to a company’s reputation but can also lead to the downfall of an enterprise.
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