Before it’s an ad for shampoo or cat food or cola, every advertisement is first an ad for capitalism.
Without a privately-controlled industry jockeying to compete with one another for consumer dollars, there’s no need for advertising. People would wash their hair with Shampoo, and feed their cats with Cat Food, and quench their thirst with Cola. Without competition, there would be no need to advertise in the first place. Especially when it comes to commodities. There are some differences between colas—the taste and the ingredients, for example. But the main difference is on the can rather than in it. The branding, and the sensibilities that branding conveys.
Yesterday, Pepsi released an ad that takes a strong, if bizarre, brand position on contemporary politics. In the spot, dubbed “Jump In,” Kendall Jenner abandons a photo shoot to join a passing march. To do so, she sheds a blonde wig and slips in among a diverse throng of variously-toned participants in a seemingly-innocuous protest. Eventually, Jenner meets an equally innocuous policeman keeping order. She hands him a cold Pepsi, and the crowd of protesters rejoices. “Live for Now,” the spot concludes, topped by the Pepsi brand mark.
The ad has been almost universally panned online. A tone-deaf take on “protest as brunch.” An absurdist parody of the long, unfinished project of civil-rights activism in America. A trivialization of today’s street unrest.
All these criticisms are dead-on. But they don’t matter, because the ad is an undeniable success. Yes, true, it coopts the politics of protest, particularly as they surround race relations in America today. But that’s not the ad’s goal, so the public’s objection is ultimately irrelevant to Pepsi’s mission. The ad’s point is to put the consumer in a more important role than the citizen anyway. And to position Pepsi as a facilitator in the utopian dream of pure, color-blind consumerism that might someday replace politics entirely.