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A Public Relations Catastrophe

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An Analysis of Pepsi’s Live For Now Commercial


Persuasion is everywhere, so much so that it is hard to avoid it. Persuasion is on television, on your phone, on billboards, in magazines and books; persuasion is even found in your everyday interactions with friends, family, and coworkers by the way they sound, the way they look, and more. There are good and bad ways to persuade, ethical and unethical, effective and ineffective. In this essay I will analyze a persuasive artifact.

THE artifact: Pepsi’s “Live For Now”

Let’s travel back just three years ago… it’s 2017 and Pepsi has launched their new campaign, “Live For Now,” airing a commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. Remember the one? This commercial showed a group of protestors in the streets of a city. A cellist, photographer, dancers, and others were featured. Kendall Jenner was taking a photoshoot on the city streets when she decided to join the protestors. She then grabs a Pepsi and hands one to a police officer. Suddenly the group of protestors are cheery and so are the police officers.


I watched this commercial three times, pausing at moments when needed. When analysing this artifact, I had to ask, “What was going on the world at this time? What are these protestors protesting?” I paused the commercial to read protesters’ signs. Many of them read “Join the conversation” or displayed peace signs. What was the problem? The commercial featured the song “Lion” by Skip Marley. Why was this song chosen? What does this song say? I also looked up the lyrics to this song.


In 2017, the Black Lives Matter movement was starting to rise. This is important for context because if you did not know this then you would be confused as to what the protestors in the commercial are protesting. Pepsi purposefully left this vague. This commercial was Pepsi’s way of “joining the conversation” but they do not clarify what that conversation is. It was their way of appealing to millennials, but they did it quite poorly and the public let Pepsi know that. In fact, the commercial was pulled very soon after its first air date because of the negative feedback. The commercial was seen as insensitive and inappropriate.

This Pepsi commercial was insensitive for multiple reasons, the first being the notion that a soda drink can solve the problems of police brutality. This commercial is telling the audience that all that is needed to mend the relationship between Black Lives Matter and the police force is a Pepsi drink, and entirely ignores the real problems that people are facing in America. Secondly, this commercial is offensive because of its use of stereotypes. Who is the cellist throughout the commercial? An asian. Who is the struggling photographer/artist first featured at 0:52? Am indian woman wearing a head covering. Who are the break dancers in the street at 1:14? African Americans. At 0:49 what are a couple of white girls doing? Laughing over brunch. The overuse of these stereotypes makes you wonder what on earth was going through Pepsi’s mind. Who was in charge of this commercial? How many people reviewed this concept?

This commercial was unethical because it dismissed the real problems currently happening. Pepsi tried using a serious social issue for their own gain. What’s more is they did not clarify what “conversation” they were “joining.” If Pepsi really wanted to stand behind the Black Lives MAtter movement, then they would have said so. This commercial proves that they are not actually willing to join the movement, and members of Black Lives Matter see this as more than hypocritical- they see it as someone against them. 

The lyrics to “Lions” by Skip Marley featured in this commercial include, “We are the lions, we are the chosen, we gonna shine out the dark. We are the movement, this generation. You better know who we are, who we are.” This is Pepsi’s Live For Now anthem and was used to inspire the viewer into joining the “movement” (that is undefined). The choice in music alone was a good persuasive tactic because it effectively pulls at the viewer’s heart and appeals to pathos. However, the context of this song means that it was executed very poorly.


Pepsi’s response to the negative backlash of the media to this new commercial was that they, “just wanted to start a conversation.” A conversation about what? About a soda drink solving the problems of police brutality? This commercial was not only extremely ineffective in persuading its audience to drink Pepsi, but it was also unethical. There was a major disconnect between Pepsi and it’s audience, and Pepsi failed to realize this.

This Pepsi commercial shows how the media can influence the effects of a campaign. The public took to social media, mainly Twitter, to voice their disgust and concern over the commercial. This alerted Pepsi to the mistake they made and, thankfully, Pepsi listened and took down their commercial. This example also proves how important it is to stay connected with pop culture. Pepsi was immensely out of touch, and if they had been more in tune with the current pop culture climate, they may have avoided this public relations catastrophe. 


Carlos (2017, April 5). Kendall Jenner For Pepsi Commercial. [Video] Youtube. 


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