Pepsi and Jenner Commercial: A Lesson About Diversity in the Media Industry

Curator Intern Blog Series

By Lauren Macalalad, PR Intern

There’s no doubt your newsfeed was flooded last week with content about the poorly received Pepsi commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. The video sparked outrage among the public (myself included) and Pepsi was accused of appropriating and making light of the Black Lives Matter movement. To further provoke the already on-edge public, Nivea also premiered its “White is Purity” ad, which didn’t fare too well either.

Within the short time the commercial was released and then retracted, Pepsi received its fair share of backlash from the public, as well as from PR professionals. Since the release, many memes were generated to mock Pepsi’s failed campaign. Even SNL took a shot at recreating the behind-the-scenes action of the video’s filming (and it’s pretty hilarious). All jokes aside, it’s time we get serious about the root of the problem: Diversity, or rather the lack of, in the media industry.

So, what can diversity teach us and why is it vital? Well, to begin tapping at the surface of this very complex topic, I’ll list three points to help explain what it means to incorporate more diversity in the media industry.

First, diversity can teach us a great amount about the importance of assuming the minority perspective (systematically speaking) when it comes to reviewing PR campaigns. It’s always important to see something from another person’s viewpoint because it provides context as to how effectively (or ineffectively) a message is being communicated. 

Secondly, diversity doesn’t just mean hiring individuals of varying ethnic, cultural, religious or political backgrounds, but also having them occupy advisory-type seats. The role these individuals play in generating messages that align with the true meaning of civil and social struggles is key and could help prevent future PR disasters. The input these individuals would bring to the table is extremely valuable in helping steer companies’ PR campaigns in the right direction.

Finally, promoting diversity in the media industry means providing individuals of minority and marginalized communities a platform to voice their experiences and opinions. One way Pepsi could have better projected a message of global unity, peace and understanding is by centering the video around a known political activist or a person of color. Diversity is not a bad thing for companies to stand by, as long as they do so intentionally and thoughtfully.

Incorporating more diversity in the media industry can provide PR professionals a more thorough understanding of how varying audiences and communities might receive a message, as well as the opportunity to act as powerful allies to minority and marginalized groups.

Overall, I applaud Pepsi’s swift response to the event. They were quick to pick up on the storm that transpired in negative reaction to the video’s message and retracted the video once they heard what their audience had to say. The statement that Pepsi released thoroughly apologized for the miscommunicated message and, while they explained the video’s initial intention, they decided to take it down indefinitely.

This blog was written as a part of Curator’s Intern Blog Series. The author, Lauren Macalalad, is a senior at the University of Washington studying communication, Spanish and diversity. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.