Last Wednesday PepsiCo released a new commercial for their namesake cola. It was very bad and made a lot of people unhappy, so they took it down after only a couple of hours. Since it’s so easy to remove things from the internet permanently, and there’s no way to watch this terrible commercial everybody’s talking about now, I will describe it in words for anyone who didn’t see it before it was deleted and wants to join the conversation.
We open on a shot of a boy playing cello (bass?) on the top of a skyscraper, wearing dark clothes and a beanie. His hair is very sweaty from the mile-high cello concert. Why? Who knows, but Pepsi’s marketing team must have thought it was relatable, or trendy, or attention-grabbing, or whatever. It’s anybody’s guess, really.
Then there’s a protest, or maybe a march. Demonstration? It’s tough to tell. The signs, which tell us to “Join the conversation,” are no help. These people might actually be a bunch of music festival-goers who are really excited about this one band, and maybe the fan group of the band calls themselves “The Conversation,” so they’re bringing all these signs to the festival to show everyone else how much they love this band. Maybe that’s what the Pepsi execs saw in it?
Next we see Kendall Jenner at a photoshoot. She’s got this real sparkly ensemble with a black jacket, a blonde wig, and some hoop earrings. What’s the shoot for? Who’s to say. She’s drinking a lot of Pepsi, so maybe it’s for Pepsi, but then everyone in the protest is also drinking Pepsi, as if this is some kind of alternate universe where Pepsi dominates the global cola culture.
We switch back to cello boy, who has sensibly retreated indoors because it was probably pretty windy on that tall, tall rooftop. His beautiful, ancient art has been disturbed by some ruckus outside. He sips his Pepsi and saunters to the balcony to investigate. Now, I don’t want to judge our good good cello boy’s life, but his studio apartment looks like a warehouse on the inside while his balcony’s got some kind of Greco-Roman aesthetic going on and it just does not match. But in this new and foreign Pepsiverse, anything is possible.
Finally, we meet the most enigmatic character in the entire commercial: an artist, clad in nose ring and hijab, who seems to be very angry at her pictures. What is she so angry about? It tested well with focus groups, so it can’t be completely incomprehensible, but for the life of me I just can’t figure it out. Anyway, she sees the demonstration, grabs her camera, and joins the fight (?). Cello boy joins too.
Our focus turns to the crowd. There’s a guy twirling a drumstick, some people leaning on a van, and then a bunch of dudes doing some fun hip-hop dancing (yes, they’re all black men, but it’s okay because nobody cares about being tokenized in the Pepsiverse). One of them almost dabs, which is honestly the highlight of the commercial for me, so that’s really the only thing Pepsi’s ad team got right for my particular demographic.
We’re back to Kendall Jenner, who’s annoyed or curious about this crowd marching by her photoshoot; it’s hard to tell which. Good good cello boy walks by, gives her a look, beckoning her to join the trendy social gathering, and thus begins the commercial’s brief romantic arc. Kendall Jenner tears off her wig, smears off her lipstick, and then quickly changes off camera into a plain white shirt and denim jacket — protest attire, I guess? — before joining the throng. She grabs a Pepsi from a conveniently-placed ice bucket and passes cello boy. She gives him a look, and thus concludes the commercial’s brief romantic arc because she cheats on him immediately afterward by pounding knuckles with a black dude. I know, I know, but it tested exceptionally well among children ages 2-8 and men ages 65+, so you really can’t blame PepsiCo for leaving it in the final cut.
The protest halts in front of a small contingent of police officers in non-riot gear. Kendall Jenner walks up to the cutest one and gives him the Pepsi. He drinks it. The crowd goes fucking bananas. Our artist friend snaps a pic and immediately wins a Pulitzer. Everyone is very happy that a white woman saved the day and did not get shot. The cute policeman boy smiles at his partner, as if to say, “Buy more Pepsi, America.” Pepsi reminds us to live bolder, live louder, and live for now, which is dangerously close to Taco Bell’s tagline, but the focus groups liked it, so there you go.
Some lingering questions the commercial left me with: What are those orange sparks that flare up in front of the boy playing cello and the girl looking at pictures? Why are all of the protesters (or festival-goers, we can’t rule that out) so well dressed and evenly spaced? How did Kendall Jenner get to the Pepsiverse? Is there a universe for other cola drinks? Why did cello boy bring his cello with him to the march? Aren’t cellos heavy? These answers may have been obvious to the multiple levels of authority this commercial had to pass through in order to air, but they certainly are not obvious to me. For that, I rate this commercial a “Hands up don’t shoot” out of “We don’t have Coke – is Pepsi okay?”