Pepsi ad’s failure may turn out to be teachable moment, local educators say

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SEATTLE — It’s an ad for soda that didn’t just fizzle out, it fell flat.

Pepsi is facing major social media backlash after releasing an ad using protest imagery to market their drink. The company on Wednesday pulled the ad, which featured model Kendall Jenner.


Now, local teachers and activists say the ad’s failure may actually turn out to be a teachable moment. Running just over two minutes, the ad shows Jenner leaving a photo shoot, grabbing a Pepsi and joining a protest. She then hands the Pepsi to a police officer and the crowd cheers.

The ad generated some major social media backwash for using protest imagery to market the soft drink. After pulling the ad, Pepsi apologized in a statement saying:

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout.”

Pepsi also apologized to Jenner for putting her “in this position.”

“I think Pepsi crossed a line this time. I think it went from beyond obnoxious to really offensive," says Jesse Hagopian, a social studies teacher at Seattle's Garfield High School.

He thinks the ad’s failure is a teachable moment, not just for his students but the country.

“As somebody who’s been part of these social movements, as someone who has actually been pepper-sprayed by the police on Martin Luther King Day, I can tell you that handing a cop a Pepsi has nothing to do with what it takes to create real social change,” says Hagopian.

Hagopian says last year he received a $100,000 settlement from the city of Seattle after a camera captured the moment a Seattle police officer pepper-sprayed him during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally on Jan. 19, 2015. On Wednesday, he tweeted out that video, saying, "If only Kendall was there with a Pepsi before this happened to me."

Nathan Hale student teacher Tess Williams says she found the ad in poor taste, as well.

“There’s a lot of misperceptions about activism, especially when you have students who, this is the time in their life when they are being active in the Black Lives Matter movement. To kind of trivialize it like that is really degrading and puts the hard work of so many people to shame,” says Williams.

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