Saturday, April 7, 2018

Pepsi and Kendall Jenner's Ad (2017)

Company Logo
            On April 4th 2017, Pepsi released a commercial including Kendell Jenner, a reality TV star, joining a protest, and seems to resolve the protests tension with police officers by offering a can of soda to one of them (Smith).

            The 2-minute commercial started with Kendall taking pictures when she first saw a crowd of protesters walking on the streets with signs that say “Love” and “Peace.” Jenner then decides to take off her blonde wig, wipe away her makeup, and join the marchers. Unlike the real world movements, the ad depicts protesters to look happy and cheerful. After that, Kendall steps in the frontline of the protesters to grab a can of Pepsi and hands it to one of the officers. The police officer opens the can and takes a sip, and everybody cheers.

            The ad caused a massive controversy in social media, and many critics accused the giant drink company for undermining the terror that happens in most well-known protests, such as the Black Lives Matter movement (Victor). A movement that is led by a 21-year-old white model armed with only a soda can created a problem to most viewers. The last scene of the commercial looks much similar to one of the most known pictures in the Black Lives Matter movement. This famous image of the 28-year-old Ieshia Evans, standing in front of hundreds of officers, was taken during a protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Smith). It was a slap in the face to many people who struggle with injustice in their lives, and disrespectful to those who were killed trying to receive the justice they had always wanted. Unlike what happened to Kendall in the happy revolution depiction, what actually happened to Ieshia Evans was the opposite; she was arrested by the police in front of all protesters. 

Kendall Jenner handing a Pepsi can to a police officer (left), while Ieshia is being arrested for standing against police brutality (right). 

Another side of people in the controversy believed that the giant beverage company is trying to profit off of these movements (Kaplan). The time in which the ad was released was a very tense time, and many people found it offensive because it was aired after Trump’s Muslim ban of seven countries, and transgender ban from military. Millions of people were out protesting against Trump’s decree, while Pepsi was selling its products from these serious activities. A small number of people were offended because in the ad, Jenner throws her blond wig at her black assistant in order to join the equality protest. However, the main reason was on how Pepsi showed everybody the complete opposite of the real world experience of the protest movements, where people were brutally killed by policemen. Elle Hearns, a formal organizer for the Black Lives Matter movement said, “No one is finding joy from Pepsi at a protest. That’s just not the reality of our lives. That’s not what it looks like to take bold action” (Victor).

            Who were affected by this ad? Everyone. PepsiCo’s major stakeholders includes consumers and customers (top priority), communities, employees, investors, and the government (least priority) (PepsiCo). Costumers avoided buying Pepsi’s products because of the ad which dropped the demand for Pepsi beverages (Kaplan). Pepsi claimed that communities are their second top priority, yet most of society were offended. The shortage of demand decreased Pepsi sales, and this is how investors were affected. Many shareholders started to sell their stocks in Pepsi. 

After the slam in social media, PepsiCo Inc. had to pull the ad from YouTube. Pepsi said in an apology: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue” (Victor). The controversy did not stop after the apology, as many people had taken an issue with the company’s apology, stating that Pepsi did not actually apologize to the people who devoted their lives to fix these problems in our society. The youngest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bernice King, posted an old picture of her father being pushed back by a police line. She tweeted: "If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi" (Smith). Pepsi immediately responded to Bernice with an apology, saying that "We at Pepsi believe in the legacy of Dr. King & meant absolutely no disrespect to him & others who fight for justice" (Smith).

Jenner publicly apologizes for the ad.
Jenner was also accused of the same complaint as Pepsi, she said that she feels really bad if she ever offended anyone, and that she did not know that the ad was going to take a wrong turn (Yahr). Pepsi also apologized to Jenner by saying: “We are removing the content and halting any further roll-out. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position." In my opinion, I believe that the ad is completely Pepsi’s fault, and Pepsi must take full responsibility in front of the public. Kendall Jenner is only a 21-year-old girl, and offending people clearly was not in her intentions.

            Individualism, or so called “The Economic Theory”, is a famous theory started by the Nobel-Prize winning economist Milton Friedman (Salazar 17). It was first inspired by a well-known philosopher Adam Smith, or as many people refer to as the Father of Economics. The theory basically says that society needs to understand that the relationship between people and businesses should not be more than a business relationship. Business people have the right to pursue their goals and make profits by doing so within the law (Salazar 18). Individualism mostly values the business, the owners, and the profit of a business. People can practice this theory by acting selfishly without breaking the law. Business people can make more money and no one has a right to make choices for others. Individualism in today’s society focuses more on maximizing profit, and if the company wants to donate, the owners have the right to vote for donation. 
            When a firm uses its resources in any way that might change its goal to maximize the wealth of shareholders, then the company is stealing from the owners’ money. Friedman suggests that the rule of supply and demand in economics standardize the wage of employees, and the company is technically stealing from owners if it increased employees’ wages (Salazar 18). PepsiCo, Inc. is a company like any of the others. It has the same business goal as every public organization in the United States. Using the company’s capital in a way that affects the wealth of shareholders does not apply under Individualism. Pepsi’s commercial was a misusing of the company’s budget. If Pepsi showed the ad to investors first, they would have voted against publishing it. The stock of Pepsi decreased from $110.22 to $106.69 which cost millions of dollars for some investors

            Utilitarianism theory focuses on the people’s long-term happiness. It was started by Jeremy Bentham back in 1800, and popularized by John Mill after that (Salazar 19). It values the happiness of every person by maximizing their pleasure and minimizing their pain. Businesses that use this theory are more concerned of people’s opinions toward them. Therefore, their business actions and decisions will benefit all people. Many utilitarians try to analyze actions and decisions of the company, which will help them measure the costs and benefits of these actions in order to understand all affected parties. Utilitarianism always shifts its focus to benefit the stakeholders’ approach (Salazar 19).
Happiness in Utilitarianism is not measured only on human beings, but also to the environment as a whole. Thus, utilitarians in businesses would not make actions that will harm the environment, even if it will generate the most profit for them. Manufacturing, dumping, and anything that will destroy the ecosystem are all avoided by Utilitarianism theory unless there are a greater benefit that could be achieved in the long run. In order for businesses to apply this approach, they would need to research the long-term benefits or consequences that could happen by their decisions. Ask questions like who would be happy? Or who would be harmed? (Salazar 20). For the Pepsi/Kendall issue, Pepsi obviously did not think that through, and they did not ask themselves some Utilitarianism questions. The ad clearly harmed many people in many ways. As mentioned before, all the stakeholders were harmed such as costumers and consumers, communities, investors, employees, and the government. Therefore, Pepsi was not being ethical towards its stakeholders as Utilitarianism theory suggests. The commercial made many people furious because of its meaning, thus, Pepsi failed to maximize the happiness of everyone.

            Kantianism supports the idea of rationality, decision-making, honesty, and freedom. It was created by a philosopher named Immanuel Kant in the late 18th century (Salazar 21). Kantianism theory teaches us that to be ethical, we must not take advantage of people that are desperately in need. By giving those people all the information needed for your products, and not holding any dangerous side effects information, you are performing the Kantianism theory correctly. It urges people to understand their role as a member of humanity, and each one of us has duties to do toward one another (Salazar 21).
The differences between Kantianism and Utilitarianism is that Kantianism does not deal with target numbers such as maximizing profits of shareholders' wealth. It is kind of the opposite of Utilitarianism since Kantianism does not focus on the consequences that are made by decisions, but rather the idea of goodwill, which means that people should have good intentions despite the outcomes (Salazar 21). A goodwill also means that we must have duties for other people, even if we do not expect people to do the same for us. Kantianism says that rationality helps people in need by understanding the circumstances of people in need, and this will urge us to help them (Salazar 22). Looking at the Pepsi commercial, we can understand the intentions of Pepsi clearly. Since the beginning of the 2-minute ad, Pepsi was showing their viewers that revolutions are fun places, and protestors are cheering happily like nothing is going to happen. However, the truth is not how Pepsi was depicting it to people, the truth is much more brutal and disturbing. Many people suffered harshly in these protests, and some people even lost their lives trying to defend their families. This means that Pepsi was trying to profit off the pain in which those people have suffered. Using the pain of others to gain more money is not in any of Kant’s principles.

Virtue Theory:
           The Theory of Virtue was developed way before the rest of business ethics’ theories. It was founded by the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle (Salazar 23). Aristotle said that the people who follow that theory must be rational, and by having this rationality, they will live a virtuous life. Aristotle also said that in order to be happy, you need to be virtuous, and in order to be virtuous, you need to be rational. The theory values most the characteristics that endorse wellness or flourishing of people in the society. The difference between Virtue theory and the other three ethical theories is that Virtue theory focuses on an individual’s character, whereas Kantianism, Utilitarianism, and Individualism are all motivated by people’s actions (Salazar 23). Aristotle said that a virtue can be found when any character trait boosts flourishing, and a vice can be found when any character trait prevents flourishing.
The theory consists of four traits: honesty, courage, temperance, and justice. In order to be virtuous, people (or companies) need to apply all four traits of the Virtue theory (Salazar 23). Pepsi did not apply any traits of the Virtue theory. One part of the theory is courage, and Pepsi clearly was not courageous because they were copying the famous image of Ieshia Evans, standing in front of hundreds of officers. Pepsi did not explain this picture to its viewers, instead, the viewers realized the meaning themselves. Pepsi also was not honest to its customers about trying to profit off the people who actually suffered in the Black Lives Matter movement. Besides, the giant beverage company had no temperance in their ad, because no one knows what exactly they were trying to achieve. The product is a fizzy drink; why would the firm have used real world events to promote that particular product? Finally, Pepsi was not just toward protesters. At the same time the ad was published, there was a real world revolution in the United States. It is unjust if Pepsi gains more money at the expense of people’s lives in those movements.

Work Cited

“Brands.” PepsiCo,

Kaplan, Jennifer. “What Went Wrong with Pepsi's Kendall Jenner Ad.”, Bloomberg, 5 Apr. 2017, 

Salazar, Heather. The Business Ethics Case Manual. n.d.

Smith, Alexander. “'We missed the mark': Pepsi pulls ad featuring Kendall Jenner after controversy.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 5 Apr. 2017,

Victor, Daniel. “Pepsi Pulls Ad Accused of Trivializing Black Lives Matter.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Apr. 2017,

Yahr, Emily. “Kendall Jenner cries over Pepsi ad backlash in 'Keeping Up With the Kardashians' premiere.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 Oct. 2017, 


  1. I like this controversy, you really went in detail with it and the theories which I thought was great. Also the pictures are great visual aids. Your post makes me wish mine was longer. Great job

  2. Ahmed you did a nice job of presenting the case with full details of all parts involved and applying the theories to it. Also, all sources for the controversy are reliable. Well done!