If I had a Pepsi…

Full disclosure: I work for Coke. I wasn’t going to write anything about the now deleted Pepsi ad because of my soda ties. But I got some things to say.

At the surface it hit all the marks, especially for millennials and Gen Z–-celebrity endorsement, standing for a cause, and overwhelmingly ~inspirational and uplifting~. So why did it miss that mark with its target?

Let’s start with the celebrity choice. Kendall Jenner 77.8M Instagram followers. 21.4M Twitter follower. 15.6M Facebook likes. Clothing line, reality show, modeling career. She definitely has reach and a platform, but none of those have been used to support any causes. She’s popular with the cool kids, but for fashion and beauty. Not someone people look towards to affect change.

The cause in the ad is unclear. Marchers and protestors are seen holding signs about love and peace. We see young people coming together and standing as one for something bigger than themselves. But with Pepsi actually standing for anything, it simply makes light and commodifies every march and disfranchised group. It’s clear they made a concerted effort to feature a wide range of diversity in the crowd. With so much representation, it would have been all too easy for Pepsi to take an actual stand and help promote a real cause that can’t be solved with a soda.

Second disclosure: I’ve never been to a protest. I respect and admire those who have/continue to risk their lives and freedom to fight for justice. So with such high stakes at protests, I doubt it’s a party in the streets. The tone and ambience of the ad were incredibly inauthentic. While I’m sure there are some empowering and inspirational moments at a protest, it’s not called “resistance” because activists want to “Live for Now”. People who protest are fighting to live.

It’s been echoed across social media and the web, this Pepsi spot undermines and trivializes the work many sacrifice for. Pepsi made the right move to delete the ad, but it may not be enough for damage control. Costly and tone deaf ads can be avoided if agencies hire a more diverse staff and create an environment where creatives are comfortable speaking up about potentially offensive ads without fear of ridicule and repercussions.

What’s your take on the ad? How do you think the brand will recover?


Tom Burrell – The Game Changer



Cousin to ad man Bill Sharp, Thomas J. Burrell started his career as a humble mailroom clerk at Wade Advertising. He soon would change the advertising industry, and how the industry thought about people of color. Within a year at Wade, Burrell was promoted to copywriter for brands such as Alka-seltzer and Robin Hood Flour.

Throughout his career, Burrell worked on campaigns that focused on African-Americans, however those ads simply were carbon copies of general market campaigns. Burrell strongly believed that, “Black people are not dark-skinned white people,” and took this thought to found Burrell Communications Group in 1971.

Burrell challenged the one-size-fits-all idea in advertising and helped change the way Black men and women were viewed in the media with authentic and creative portrayals.


The Evolution of Black Excellence: Continuing the Revolution

Though it has become quite common for brands to take a stand on social issues, the advertising industry wasn’t always revolutionary. In advertising past, people of color were used as props and based on harmful stereotypes or  generally omitted from campaigns. In fact, only a few short decades ago simply being Black in advertising was groundbreaking.

Cream of Wheat Ad 1921

Cream of Wheat Ad 1921

Elliot's White Veneer Ad 1935

Elliot’s White Veneer Ad 1935


GE Ad 1949

GE Ad 1949









The 60s was a turning point in American history. With the Civil Rights Act being passed in 1957 and an uptick in nationwide segregation resistance, Civil Rights groups demanded agencies depict positive images of Black people.


Agencies saw the buying power of Black audiences and began to develop “Negro market departments“, featuring ads that catered to Black people in segregated communities and media.  However,  to activist groups, such as CORE and NAACP,  segregated ads was another barrier to the goal of racial equality. To  be seen as truly equal, it was important to for Black people to be shown partaking in simple and everyday things across all markets to normalize across integration in the real world.


Using the industry as a tool to propel social reform, by the mid-60s some agencies began taking steps to increase positive portrayals of Blacks through integrated ads and an increase of employees of color. This progress gave way to creative legends such as Bill Sharp and Caroline Jones, who broke racial barriers and revolutionized the industry in their own right.

We have made great strides as an industry that was once afraid to hire and portray Blacks, though we still have room to grow and evolve. It is now our duty to continue the legacy of those who came before us and advocate for varied and authentic representations of people of color in the media.

Moving Forward from The Most Racist Ad from All Time

In the current state of America there is a lot of racial tension. The Black Lives Matters Movement, demand for immigration reform and impending election with Republican nominee Donald Trump; there have been a lot of opposing views regarding race. What a sigh of relief that we can finally point the finger at someone else for being more racist than us.

If you have Facebook, or any social media for that matter, and have not been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen this Chinese laundry detergent commercial that not-so-subtly suggests that light is right and ~colored~ is…well just watch for yourself:

It’s clearly an offensive spot. Some have come to the defense of the ad saying that it parody’s an Italian ad under the same concept (as if that ad isn’t as equally problematic).

Last week, Adweek released an article about how easy it is for America to demonize other cultures shortcomings because we no longer allow such blatant discrimination in our media.  Although our ads have progressed through the years, we still have our slip ups that are damaging and hurtful.

Take this Super Bowl ad featuring Lil Wayne and George Washington. This ad came under fire for the insensitive implications of featuring a notorious slave owner being served by a Black man.

Or, this Gap shoot that was called out for having three non-minority girls actively participating, while the Black girl was seen as a prop.


And then there was this Nivea ad a few years ago, that deemed natural hair uncivilized.


It’s clear that we have room for improvement when it comes to creating ads that’s are inclusive and tolerant. Our duty to provide diverse advertising goes beyond race; gender, sexuality, age and ability need to be included in how we as creators are presenting images to be consumed.

Maybe I have too much of a “we are the world” point of view, but instead of criticizing and damning the Chinese ad, let’s use it as a learning moment on the messages we project when we use certain images. Having a diverse creative team would be more likely to prevent some of these blunders, but that’s a different topic for a different day.

The point here is, before we begin to point fingers at other ad people, let’s make sure we’re making the best effort to positively impact diversity.