Social Justice Is a Movement, Not a Marketing Strategy


Melanie Pineda, Staff Writer

Pepsi’s most recent advertising ploy has made headlines for the past couple of weeks. Using Kendall Jenner — a model who has done no actual work or activism regarding social justice — as the face of their product in an ad deliberately using protests as an attempt to appeal to the resistance is both morally wrong and extremely offensive. Even though Pepsi is by no means the only company guilty of using social justice in their marketing tactics, this ever-growing trend of abusing activism for companies’ personal gain needs to be called out and stopped.

The soda company’s first mistake was hiring a spokesperson who has never taken an actual stance on social justice issues and who is unmistakably privileged. To then scatter several stereotyped minorities across the ad was blatantly offensive and racist. One Muslim woman wearing a hijab was meant to specifically stand out amongst the crowd as she took pictures and went on to look in awe at Jenner’s brave act of handing a Pepsi to a cop. The audience is meant to interpret that this unnamed woman is being used as a clear message of defiance solely for the way she is dressed. But this tactic is problematic because it reduces her solely to a figurine rather than an actual person. The specific traits of this Muslim woman are, at best, stereotypical, and do not exemplify the voices and diversity within the Muslim community itself. Black Muslim women, for example, are rarely seen in advertisements and mainstream media alike, even though almost a third of American Muslims also identify as African-American, according to NPR. 

Pepsi is not the only company jumping onto the social justice wagon. During this year’s Super Bowl, countless ads featured subliminal messages resisting Donald Trump’s harmful agenda, including one 2014 Coca-Cola ad highlighting the diversity of the American people. This ad also portrayed only one certain type of Muslim woman, but the backlash against it mostly came from right-wingers, and was otherwise received much more positively by general audiences. Other ads, however, such as an ad for 84 Lumber that showed the border wall with a gigantic, welcoming door, later went on to proclaim that they were not at all in support of illegal immigration, with its CEO claiming her full support for Trump. The message of this ad deceived thousands across the country, with 84 Lumber’s hidden agenda only coming to light after the general public gave its ad constant coverage for the following weeks.

Movements created to resist hatred and discrimination began long before the mere action of handing someone a soda was supposed to be considered revolutionary. #BlackLivesMatter and other organization-driven protests are meant to give a voice to those who have been silenced for too long, not become exploited for the sake of a corporation’s greedy agenda. Pepsi, as well as 84 Lumber and countless other corporations, must be held responsible to take into account diverse viewpoints rather than offensively emulating a movement so significant and so sensitive to millions.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 17 print edition.

Email Melanie Pineda at [email protected]