Food & Beverage

Kendall Jenner ad uproar 'shows how far Pepsi has fallen,' marketing exec says

Pepsi faces backlash over Kendall Jenner ad
Pepsi faces backlash over Kendall Jenner ad

A pulled advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner handing a can of Pepsi to a police officer during a protest shows the company's failure to maintain cultural relevance, marketing expert Mike Jackson said Wednesday.

The ad, which debuted Tuesday, was aimed at making Pepsi products resonate more with younger consumers.

But it received a storm of backlash on social media, with critics saying it trivialized institutional racism and appropriated Black Lives Matter. Jackson said the problem isn't that Pepsi centered an ad on cultural hot-button topics, it's that it failed to do so sensitively.

"It's really kind of sad because it shows how far Pepsi has fallen as it relates to its relevance in pop culture," Jackson, senior advisor at Talespin, said on CNBC's "Squawk Alley." "I mean, if Apple or Nike … had executed a similar ad, I think they would have taken into consideration that you probably wouldn't want to cast a white supermodel, Kendall Jenner, in an iconic Black Lives Matter scene."

PepsiCo originally defended the ad, but after wide-ranging criticism the company said it would remove it.

"Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding," a spokesperson said in a press release. "Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize."

Jackson said PepsiCo hasn't been active enough in matters of race for this "important message" to feel genuine. If a company wants to take on an important topic, it has to make sure it has some presence in the space.

Procter & Gamble's Dove brand, for instance, has promoted feminist causes and therefore has more authority speaking on those issues, he says. Pepsi, Jackson said, doesn't have any history in promoting racial issues.

"I think it was the right idea, I think it was the wrong brand," he said. "Brands need to stay in a space where they're authentic, where they're relevant and a place where they've been consistent. This is kind of a one-off ad from Pepsi. You haven't seen that kind of messaging from them previously."