Pepsi’s Jenner ad shows misunderstanding between generations
3 mins read

Pepsi’s Jenner ad shows misunderstanding between generations

In his 2009 movie The Invention of Lying, British actor Ricky Gervais summed up the average useage of Pepsi with the parody slogan: Pepsi, when they don’t have Coke. This is obviously meant as a joke, but it probably would’ve stirred more positive feelings than Pepsi’s recent ad featuring Kendall Jenner.

For those who haven’t seen the commercial, there’s a surprisingly large amount of meaning to unpack. I think they were trying to go for a feeling like the classic “Give the World a Coke” ad, but they really missed their mark.

They missed it so badly that they had to pull the spot from their air, and, as Angela Watercutter of Wired observed, did the impossible of uniting the Internet.

Right off the bat, the ad is clearly targeted at a younger demographic, which isn’t particularly surprising. Dionne Searcey of The New York Times said that since the Mad Men ’60s, advertisers have been chasing young people. The problem they face is that they’ve been using the same strategies ever since.

That worked fine for Baby Boomers and Gen X, but Millennials are a different market. One thing that marked the Boomers in their youth was their political activeness. Many of the highlights of the American ’60s include the Civil Rights movement, where Senator Bernie Sanders first made his bones.

The hippies were no strangers to protesting Nixon or the Vietnam war. My grandmother campaigned for and still has a pin supporting South Dakota Democratic Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern, considered at the time to be a very progressive politician.

To my eye, the core misunderstanding presented by Pepsi is that the protests – which vaguely resemble some combination of the Women’s March and the Black Lives Matter Movement – are happening for fun. It shows a fundamental disconnect between the advertiser (presumably a Baby Boomer) and the target viewer (a Millennial).

This is very strange to me. I see a lot of similarities between my grandparent’s generation and my own.

We are the generation of fast forwarding through commercials on the DVR and installing ad-blockers. The feeling toward advertisements isn’t annoyance, it’s openly hostile. Maybe it’s this adversity toward advertisements, maybe it’s the smash success of some ads in popular culture, but either way, ads now need to be something worth watching in their own right.

This necessity stands particularly strong for companies that often play second fiddle, like Pepsi. If I had to guess, this ad was probably made by a board meeting that started with the question, “What do Millennials like?” 

Pepsi’s ad would seem to suggest the answer to that is hipster culture, protesting and a star from Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Maybe they’re right in their assessment; I’m no marketing genius. However, they definitely got the execution wrong. There probably wasn’t any ill intent here, just a dramatic misunderstanding between age groups.

I’m not bothered by Pepsi’s Jenner ad because it’s tone deaf – I doubt they had ill will. I’m not upset by the demonstration of “Kids of Today” syndrome, that’s been happening since Socrates.

I’m just disappointed to see such a real demonstration of the misunderstanding between generations.


Smith is a member of College Democrats and the Political Science League.