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Kendall Jenner is transformed into an activist for her new Pepsi commercial. What’s she fighting for, you ask? Well, that much isn’t exactly clear.
The new ad spot has the 21-year-old supermodel gussied up for a fashion photo shoot when she spies a march taking place in the streets. Her interest is piqued, she makes eye contact with a handsome young stranger who has perfected the art of the come hither brow raise, and all at once Jenner defiantly peels off her stiff blonde wig and wipes away her lipstick with the back of her hand in a move that seems to suggest, “How could I think about fashion in times like these?”
The Insta-girl not only joins the march after a quick ensemble change, she also hands a handsome police officer the 21st century version of an olive branch: an ice-cold can of Pepsi. It’s a unifying if not heartwarming gesture, to be sure.
But in real life, the supermodel is far from a social activist. Though she was spotted wearing a Marc Jacobs-designed, pro-Hillary Clinton tee early last year, the model stayed mum on her political leanings throughout the rest of the election cycle, refusing even to comment on her decision to wear the tee in the first place. While it seemed like every other celebrity (Lena Dunham, America Ferrera, Katy Perry, J. Lo, et al) was using their platforms to influence fans, Jenner — much like Taylor Swift — was quiet.
Jenner appeared in ads for Rock the Vote, in which she encouraged young people to register to vote, but she never divulged her personal stance. And while she has every right to keep her political views private, perhaps the casting of Jenner as a marching millennial when she herself has not participated in any of the many protests which have taken place in recent months was a bit misguided.
The Hadid sisters, who, as the children of a Muslim immigrant, have been outspoken about President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration policies, or even a mouthy model like Cara Delevingne, who has lent her face and star power to several charitable organizations in recent months, might have been more apt choices for Pepsi.
It’s not surprising that the soft-drink giant would choose a protest march as a set and setting. Activism has been trending on the front lines of fashion for quite some time now, and the industry has seen a sharp uptick in feminist merch since the 2016 election. On the New York Fashion Week runways alone, a vocal group of designers used their shows, as well as their social media channels, to brandish women’s rights and anti-immigration ban messages.
Like most things in fashion, the trend has trickled down to mainstream retailers, with Urban Outfitters and Forever21 hocking “feminist” pins and tees. Neither of these retailers make mention of sending a portion of profits to organizations like the ACLU or Planned Parenthood, as high-end designers including Dior, Public School and Prabal Gurung did, which begs the question: At what point does activism lose its meaning and become just another way for corporations to cash in?
Whereas Urban Outfitters recently hosted a series of panels with young social activists, including Rowan Blanchard and Yara Shahidi, to speak about the political climate in collaboration with Teen Vogue, turning commerce into actual conversation, Pepsi’s commercial lacks any clear message other than ambiguous calls to action. Ad execs at Pepsi seem to be suggesting that young people have simply traded the atriums of American malls for marches in the streets when it comes to Saturday pastimes that might call for a refreshing drink.
The Pepsi commercial speaks to another marketing trend, too — apparently, sex no longer sells. Whereas the iconic 1992 Pepsi commercial starring Cindy Crawford painted the supermodel as a thirsty, Daisy Duke-shorts wearing sex symbol, the 2017 campaign sees Jenner ditching all the traditional tropes of sex appeal — her blonde wig, her burgundy lipstick, her itty bitty metallic mini — for good ol‘ American denim and sneakers. The spot comes on the heels of a decision by Carl’s Jr. to change its advertising from scantily clad, burger-scarfing models-as-fresh-meat to focus on the actual freshness of its meat products.
Love it or hate it, the Pepsi ad did accomplish one thing: It got people talking, not unlike Coca Cola’s iconic 1971 ad, which also capitalized on young people’s desire for peace. Wonder what Don Draper would say?
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