Trivialising protest is dangerous. Ask Indra Nooyi’s PepsiCo, which had to withdraw its advertisement trying to cash in on the #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations to sell Pepsi.

Maybe the company was trying to be inclusive, but the ad, starring American model Kendall Jenner, did not go down well with people.

The script had the 21-year-old doing something that resembled a now-famous scene of a woman standing up to the police at a protest demonstration in 2016.

Lone activist Ieshia Evans stands her ground while offering her hands for arrest as she is charged by riot police during a protest against police brutality outside the Baton Rouge Police Department in Louisiana, USA, 9 July 2016. Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

In a travesty of that act of courage, the ad depicts Jenner tossing off her blonde wig, walking out of an ongoing photo-shoot to join a demonstration by young people from different communities – including one “hot” man – only to grab a can of ice-cold Pepsi and hand it over to a policeman who accepts it smilingly.

Here’s why viewers weren’t amused.

Pepsi insisted that the intention was to act as a reminder for the current generation to “live the ‘now’ moment,” through “a short film about the moments when we decide to let go, choose to act, follow our passion and nothing holds us back.”

But the attempt to appropriate a serious political movement fell in order to sell a fizzy drink fell flat on its face. Pepsi had clearly chosen far too sensitive a setting for its commercial message, and viewers used social media to push back hard.

For some, the advertisement bears a stark resemblance to the 1999 music video Out of Control by The Chemical Brothers. The video below shows actress Rosario Dawson as a rebel leader defeating a line of anti-riot cops with a soft drink. It’s later revealed to be an ad, and a television playing it is smashed as the riots spill out onto the streets.


It’s not the first time Pepsi has got its message mixed up. Remember how it mocked the FTII student protests in 2015?