Pepsi is pulling its Kendall Jenner ad after the spot drew a torrent of criticism, including complaints that the ad was not only clumsily executed but that it co-opted protest movements such as Black Lives Matter for commercial gain. The ad had been planned to run globally across TV and digital.
"Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize," the brand said in a statement. "We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position."
Pepsi had stood by the widely mocked ad as recently as last evening when the brand issued a statement saying that the global ad "reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that's an important message to convey."
But a majority of people who weighed in on the ad on social media disagreed. Through 5 a.m. ET today, 77% of digital content engagement around the phrase "tone-deaf" mentioned both Kendall Jenner and Pepsi, according to marketing technology company Amobee, which monitors digital content.
The spot was created by PepsiCo's in-house content creation arm, Creators League Studio. The studio's business model is to bring in writers, art directors, cinematographers and other talent on an as-needed basis. Credits on the Kendall Jenner ad include Pete Kasko as creative director, Michael Bernard as director, and film production by Picture Farm. The studio is overseen by Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo's global beverage group; and Kristin Patrick, senior VP-global brand development. Mr. Jakeman had praised the ad on Twitter on Tuesday morning shortly after it was released, saying he was "super proud of the @PepsiCo #CreatorsLeague for producing this," but the tweet has since been deleted.
Opinions on the spot came from just about everywhere, including celebrities, ad agencies, and publications ranging from Esquire -- which bashed the spot as "almost surreal in its thoughtlessness" -- to The Federalist, which used the backlash to take a shot at millennials with this headline: "Pepsi's New Kendall Jenner Ad Is Everything That's Wrong With Millennials."
Even a Coke ad agency weighed in, as a tweet from W&K's London's account (run by Managing Director Neil Christie) cited an article from British newspaper The Independent, asking, "Is this actually the worst ad of all time?"
Industry professionals have unabashedly criticized the ad. "I understand what they were trying to do: They had data that probably said 75% of millennials consider themselves activists, or whatever that data piece was, so we are going to embrace the idea of activism," Benjamin Blank, CEO and chief creative officer at Uproxx Media Group, said in an interview. But Pepsi misfired by taking a "very broad-stroke approach as opposed to standing for something. It's like standing for love or happiness, that's not really a stance."
He added: "If Kendall Jenner actually did something that was meaningful and they documented that and supported that, that would probably be something that would make more sense for the brand as opposed to paying her whatever they paid her to appear in a scripted piece of content that was not based in any true meaning."
Veteran commercials and music video director Joseph Kahn went on a certifiable Twitter rant:
Here is my reaction to the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad: NO THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING— Joseph Kahn (@JosephKahn) April 4, 2017
Kendall Jenner modeling in front of a protest and then giving a cop a Pepsi. WHO THE FUCK THOUGHT OF THIS? THE AD WORLD JUST ENDED ITSELF.— Joseph Kahn (@JosephKahn) April 4, 2017
Pack it up people. Our industry is done.— Joseph Kahn (@JosephKahn) April 4, 2017
I've been studying commercials for 30 years. Kendall's Pepsi ad is legitimately the worst one I've ever seen.— Joseph Kahn (@JosephKahn) April 4, 2017
And he's not alone in his soul-searching, as evident in this Reddit thread in which a number of creative professionals discuss how the ad has given them second thoughts about their industry.
The ad does have at least one remaining supporter, Kendall's mom, Kris Jenner, who tweeted on Tuesday: "So proud of you @kendalljenner! Thank you @pepsi for choosing Kendall to be the face of your new campaign!" But Ms. Jenner deleted her tweet shortly after Pepsi pulled the ad.