My baby brother, Michael, is one of my favorite people on the planet. We’re over a decade apart, age-wise, but he loves his Big Sis LoLo and can be fun to hang out with.
Since he’s the only native Texan among us, Michael’s full-fledged Southern roots and love for hip-hop have influenced not only his dialect, but his vocabulary. “Thrown off,” for example, is how he characterizes the odd and bizarre. Another one, “Dying slow,” can mean a few things: “I’m starving,” “I’m thirsty” or “Hurry up!” But my favorite expression of Michael’s is one I’ve grafted into my own extensive cache, “That’s bad business.” It means that a particular action or event, professionally or otherwise, is foul and simply not a good move.
There are plenty of examples I could expound on to illustrate this catchphrase, but for now, I will focus on Pepsi. In a recent ad for the soft drink giant, model/reality star Kendall Jenner is featured for its latest campaign; as Skip Marley’s song “Lions” booms in the background, Jenner is at an outdoor photo shoot, her concentration broken by a rowdy marching protesters and a human barricade of cops.
To personify Pepsi’s message of “Live bolder, live louder, live for now,” Jenner tosses away her platinum wig, wipes off her lipstick and stands between the crowd and police officers, offering one a—wait for it—-can of Pepsi. He accepts it, smiles and everyone becomes BFFs as they all cheer and dance down the boulevard.
As one can imagine, the intended message of unity and empowerment were supplanted by not only the appearance of the privileged Kendall, but Pepsi’s egregious appropriation of the Black Lives Matter movement for profit. There was also Jenner’s emulating the widely-publicized stance of Iesha Evans, the African-American nurse famously photographed while calmly blocking riot-ready police officers in 2016. Instead of saluting Evans’ bravery and subsequent arrest (a credit, a cameo, hello?!), Pepsi pimped out that imagery, and the struggle itself, to sell its soda. Unreal.
Thanks to an immediate outcry, Pepsi pulled the ad, but not before both the brand and the model were rightly skewered throughout social media: “If I had carried Pepsi I guess I never would have been arrested. Who knew?” “Kendall Jenner ‘ends racism’ by handing police men a Pepsi–way to degrade 50 yrs of black/minority struggle.” “So we should just give Putin & Assad & Trump a can of Pepsi & everything will be fine?”*
There’s also Germany-based Nivea, whose most recent ad campaign depicted a caucasian woman draped in white and sitting on white sheets with the slogan “white Is purity.” Nivea also caught backlash and halted the campaign—the latest in a string of offensive ads for the company.
Companies being so tone-def in the “information era” is bad enough; becoming a repeat offender on top of that ignorance is something else. Were there honestly trained and highly-paid advertising execs crafting these ideas and hi-fiving themselves for these faux pas? Did it ever occur to anyone that a couple of pounds of prevention—meaning a handful or more of non-white employees—is worth the hours of PR strategy and cure?
As a communications major, my focus was never in advertising. But as a consumer I can tell you this much; brands that perpetuate tired stereotypes or attempt to profit from our struggles as women or as people of color will not collect my hard-earned dollars. Black Lives Matter and so do the optics—if it somewhat ‘looks bad,’ it likely is bad, and the campaigns should be corrected or scrapped.
Otherwise, repeatedly “thrown off” messages will have your stocks, and your products, “dying slow.” And as my kid brother Mike likes to say, “that’s just bad business.”
*Colbert’s brilliant breakdown of the Pepsi commercial starts at 5:17…..