(Reuters) – Pepsi’s new ad featuring Kendall Jenner prompted Twitter users to howl outrage on Wednesday, with civil rights advocates saying it trivialized recent street unrest across the United States.
The ad released late on Tuesday shows Jenner, a fashion model and reality TV star, in a photo shoot, when she notices a nearby protest march. Removing her wig and makeup, she joins the crowd, and hands a baseball cap-wearing police officer a can of Pepsi, prompting him to smile while marchers cheer and hug.
The spot drew immediate criticism on Twitter, with users of the social media platform saying the ad belittled anti-police violence protests that have taken place over the last few years in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore following police killings of unarmed black men and teens.
While the ad did not make clear what the featured protest was in opposition to, with the only clues being peace signs and a background song with the lyrics “we are the movement, this generation,” observers were quick to condemn it.
“If I had carried Pepsi, I guess I never would have gotten arrested. Who knew?” activist DeRay McKesson, one of the best-known voices of the Black Lives Matter movement, said on Twitter. “Pepsi, this ad is trash.”
“The Kendall Jenner Pepsi fiasco is a perfect example of what happens when there’s no black people in the room when decisions are being made,” added comedian and writer Trayvon Free.
PepsiCo described the online and television ad it called “Jump In” as the start of a new campaign.
“The ‘Jump In’ Pepsi Moments film takes a more progressive approach to truly reflect today’s generation and what living for now looks like,” Pepsi said in a statement posted online before the controversy flared.
Pepsi officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Many on Twitter criticized the advertisement as a play on the Black Lives Matter movement, and circulated a 2016 image of protester Leshia Evans as a point of comparison. Evans, standing passively and wearing a dress, was detained by police in riot helmets and heavily padded suits during a protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, not long after the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by police.
Pepsi also touched a nerve in 2013, when it pulled an online ad for its Mountain Dew beverage amid complaints that the spot embraced racial stereotypes and made light of violence toward women. The ad featured a battered white woman on crutches trying to pick out her assailant from a police lineup featuring five African-American men and a goat.
Dr. Boyce Watkins, a social commentator and author, had called that ad “arguably the most racist commercial in history.”
(Reporting by Scott Malone, additional reporting by Angela Moon; Writing by Franklin Paul; Editing by Meredith Mazzill