Creativity Magazine

The Spirit of ’17, Or Protests Go Better With Pepsi

By Mrstrongest @mrstrongarm

I recently illustrated an opinion piece for No Recess!, a new online music magazine. Here’s the opening line:blank vertical space, 16 pixels highblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The world’s a mess, and our music, once the great unifier among the wild, the beautiful, and the damned would appear to be not even close to a solution toward helping bring people together as it did in other epochs of political and moral catastrophe.

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It goes on to say:

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The folks who specialize in studying, analyzing, and organizing… are not at all surprised by the state of things: They knew that evil clowns were in the pipeline and have been warning us of encroaching fascism for years now.

The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi

I’m left wondering how this music, our music… has become one of the dullest tools in the movement to resist the dysfunctional two-party system in general and the one-man show now in progress in particular.

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Clearly an Us vs. Them scenario: Us being white liberals, immigrants (legal or illegal), refugees (vetted or unvetted), African-Americans, women, gays, transsexuals, and 99.9% of all rock ‘n’ roll musicians (an obvious exception being Ted Nugent); Them being conservatives, Republicans, and Donald Trump in particular.

The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi

Here’s the illustration:

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The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi

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It’s a parody of Archibald Willard‘s famous painting, The Spirit of ’76. The illustration needed to be horizontal, so I added a couple of extra musicians. I also included Pepsi pitchwoman Kendall Jenner and her friends.
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The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi

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In case you missed it, model Kendall Jenner starred in a Pepsi commercial a few weeks ago. She played– surprise– a supermodel who decides to join a street protest that just happens to be passing by.

The protesters are all young and happy. They’re carrying signs that say peace, love, unity, and “join the conversation.”

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The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi

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Kendall grabs a Pepsi out of an ice bucket, and joins the crowd. She’s greeted with enthusiasm.
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The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi

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Kendall has an inspiration. She walks up to the police line, and hands a young cop her Pepsi. He takes a drink. A woman wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf snaps a photo. The crowd cheers.
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The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi

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The ad was widely mocked on social media. Many saw it (correctly, I think) as an attempt by Pepsi to align itself with the anti-Trump resistance movement, without committing itself to anything other than selling soda. Others saw it as trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement, which grew out of protests sparked by incidents where blacks were shot and killed by police. Pepsi ultimately apologized for the ad, and removed it from its social media channels.
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The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi

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Some thoughts:
The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi
The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi

There’s no question: controversy does create engagement. It does so by creating an emotional response. Often, that response is surprise or anger.

Joe Pulizzi says that content marketers need to get past their fear of taking sides if they want to create epic content.

Pepsi did take sides: it stood with the marchers (youth, diversity, a kind of apolitical political correctness) against the police (repressive spoilsport authority). But controversial content should do more than provoke; it should also provide value to the brand’s target audience. It’s hard to see the value in the ad’s message: it doesn’t matter what you march for, only that you march (and drink the right soda).

Content needs to resonate with your target audience, but it should avoid shaming others. Fitness brand Protein World offended many women with its 2015 weight loss ad that asked, “Are you beach body ready?” The Pepsi ad skates pretty close to shaming: police officers are cold, hard men and women, and it takes a supermodel with a can of Pepsi to humanize them, and rescue them from the dark side.

Yes, there are bad cops who abuse their authority just like there are bad bosses, bad teachers, bad parents. But I think most cops do their best under stressful and dangerous circumstances.

The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi
The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi

Final thought: identity politics is dangerous ground for marketers. You can easily offend the very people you are trying to attract.

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Thoughts? I’d appreciate your feedback.


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