Consumer Backlash Pops Pepsi's Bubble: Company Pulls 'Controversial' Kendall Jenner Ad Due to Protest

Looks like soft drink giant Pepsi is going through some hard times. And while this household soda pop company may sell sweet beverages, its latest ad has left consumers feeling sour — so much so, that Pepsi yanked the commercial less than 24 hours after it released due to tremendous backlash. Operators and executives, take note of what not to do.

The ad "Live for Now Moments Anthem," which reflects the brand's slogan, "Live for Now," was accused of trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement, appropriating a social cause for the sake of selling soda and consumerism. Among crowds of diverse, smiling faces waving vague signs stating "Join the Conversation" and people of different artistic passions and backgrounds — from a cello-slinging Asian-American musician to a hijab-donned Middle Eastern photographer to dynamic black dancers — celebrity model Kendall Jenner is featured in the middle of it all, rushing away from a photo shoot by ripping off her blonde wig and wiping off her dark lipstick with a swipe across the back of her hand to join the unexplained protest sweeping across the city. At the end, she passes by a cooler and hands a Pepsi to a cop at the front of the lines. Celebration ensues.

Activists took to Twitter, calling this a caricature of police brutality for profit. Even Martin Luther King's daughter, Bernice King, even tweeted, "If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi."

"Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding," the brand explained in a statement. "Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. ...We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position."

Still, consumers took these platitudes and "non-apology" with a grain of salt, adding that they felt there was little remorse aside from the one directed to Jenner. Before that, the brand defended the ad as one that reflected many walks of life merging into one in "the spirit of harmony."

As rough as it is for the soda giant now (especially, in a completely unrelated event, in which the Major Baseball League announced it was dropping its deal with Pepsi to sign with rival Coca-Cola), Pepsi is hardly the first company to go through social media backlash. As time passes, this incident will also likely pass as a new outcry will take its place, but there is one constant that those in foodservice should keep in mind: the importance of your brand's social media voice.

Integrated storytelling is a double-edged sword. While a powerful tool, when it goes astray — even unintentionally — the consequences are immediate and dire. Your social media and content strategy in the digital age matters more than ever if you want to resonate with your target audience. Will Pepsi bubble up and recover from this PR blunder? Or will its brand loyalty flatten and fizz out? Only time will tell. Stay tuned to see how this faux pas will affect Pepsi's brand sentiment on Foodable Labs. Read More