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The Spirit of ’17, or Protests Go Better With Pepsi

April 24, 2017

I recently illustrated an opinion piece for No Recess!, a new online music magazine. Here’s the opening line:blank vertical space, 16 pixels highblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The world’s a mess, and our music, once the great unifier among the wild, the beautiful, and the damned would appear to be not even close to a solution toward helping bring people together as it did in other epochs of political and moral catastrophe.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

It goes on to say:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The folks who specialize in studying, analyzing, and organizing… are not at all surprised by the state of things: They knew that evil clowns were in the pipeline and have been warning us of encroaching fascism for years now.

I’m left wondering how this music, our music… has become one of the dullest tools in the movement to resist the dysfunctional two-party system in general and the one-man show now in progress in particular.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Clearly an Us vs. Them scenario: Us being white liberals, immigrants (legal or illegal), refugees (vetted or unvetted), African-Americans, women, gays, transsexuals, and 99.9% of all rock ‘n’ roll musicians (an obvious exception being Ted Nugent); Them being conservatives, Republicans, and Donald Trump in particular.

Here’s the illustration:blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

parody of Archibald Willard's famous painting The Spirit of '76 rock and roll protestors 2017 resistance movement white liberal Hispanic African-American woman LGBT playing musical instruments Kendall Jenner crowd following behind with Pepsi soda cans

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highIt’s a parody of Archibald Willard‘s famous painting, The Spirit of ’76. The illustration needed to be horizontal, so I added a couple of extra musicians. I also included Pepsi pitchwoman Kendall Jenner and her friends.blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
Archibald Willard painting The Spirit of '76, three men marching through Revolutionary War battlefield wounded playing fife drums smoke American flag

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highIn case you missed it, model Kendall Jenner starred in a Pepsi commercial a few weeks ago. She played– surprise– a supermodel who decides to join a street protest that just happens to be passing by.

The protesters are all young and happy. They’re carrying signs that say peace, love, unity, and “join the conversation.”blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad generic happy protest marchers carrying bland signs peace love unity join the conversation

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highKendall grabs a Pepsi out of an ice bucket, and joins the crowd. She’s greeted with enthusiasm.blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
Kendall Jenner with Pepsi soda can getting thumbs-up applause enthusiastic reception from generic happy politically correct diverse crowd protestors

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highKendall has an inspiration. She walks up to the police line, and hands a young cop her Pepsi. He takes a drink. A woman wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf snaps a photo. The crowd cheers.blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
Kendall Jenner Pepsi protest marchers ad handing Pepsi to young cop to show no hard feelings we can be friends come join us

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highblank vertical space, 16 pixels highThe ad was widely mocked on social media. Many saw it (correctly, I think) as an attempt by Pepsi to align itself with the anti-Trump resistance movement, without committing itself to anything other than selling soda. Others saw it as trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement, which grew out of protests sparked by incidents where blacks were shot and killed by police. Pepsi ultimately apologized for the ad, and removed it from its social media channels.
blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
Kendall Jenner Pepsi protest marchers ad handing Pepsi to young cop derogatory tweet ridiculing gesture phoniness of ad itself

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highblank vertical space, 16 pixels highSome thoughts:

There’s no question: controversy does create engagement. It does so by creating an emotional response. Often, that response is surprise or anger.

Joe Pulizzi says that content marketers need to get past their fear of taking sides if they want to create epic content.

Pepsi did take sides: it stood with the marchers (youth, diversity, a kind of apolitical political correctness) against the police (repressive spoilsport authority). But controversial content should do more than provoke; it should also provide value to the brand’s target audience. It’s hard to see the value in the ad’s message: it doesn’t matter what you march for, only that you march (and drink the right soda).

Content needs to resonate with your target audience, but it should avoid shaming others. Fitness brand Protein World offended many women with its 2015 weight loss ad that asked, “Are you beach body ready?” The Pepsi ad skates pretty close to shaming: police officers are cold, hard men and women, and it takes a supermodel with a can of Pepsi to humanize them, and rescue them from the dark side.

Yes, there are bad cops who abuse their authority just like there are bad bosses, bad teachers, bad parents. But I think most cops do their best under stressful and dangerous circumstances.

Final thought: identity politics is dangerous ground for marketers. You can easily offend the very people you are trying to attract.blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

detail image parody of Archibald Willard's famous painting The Spirit of '76 rock and roll protestors 2017 resistance movement white liberal Hispanic African-American woman LGBT playing musical instruments Kendall Jenner crowd following behind with Pepsi soda cans

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Thoughts? I’d appreciate your feedback.

You might also enjoy this post on the challenge of editorial illustration.

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About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, branding, social media, and content marketing. I create images that get content seen and shared.

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Questions? Send me an email.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2017 2:40 PM

    Your homage is fun and I like that the brightly coloured figures are set against a bleakly grey background. That is quite suggestive I think.

    I have heard the controversy over the Pepsi ad but have not seen it myself. It does seem very ham-fisted and, whatever the intended message, I think tacking a trite marketing gimmick to a complex and volatile sociopolitical issue was incredibly myopic.


    • April 25, 2017 12:42 PM

      Hi, Laura! Many thanks for your kind comment, and it’s always great to see you. Funny your mentioning the bright figures against the grey background. It wasn’t too long ago that I would have carefully colored everything, including the inconsequential background figures. It took me a long time to realize that “knowing what to leave out” applies to color just as much as it does to line. Too much color is distracting, and introduces competing elements. Selective use of color helps the viewer focus, and makes for a much more effective composition. Yes, one does learn a few things if one bumbles around long enough!

      You used the word ‘gimmick’ in reference to the Pepsi ad. I think that’s the basic problem in a nutshell. It’s all very pretty, the videography and editing are top-notch, but it seems so contrived and fake. And trying to hitch a ride on political ideology (no matter how bland and generic) while making no real commitment, is just asking for trouble. Myopic, indeed.

      Hope you and yours are well. Many thanks for your your perceptive comment and kind support!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Margy permalink
    April 24, 2017 11:26 PM

    Mark, I’d have to disagree with that magazines statement “music, once the great unifier… etc”. I recently discovered a group called ‘The Piano Guys’. They performed at the Trump Inauguration. Their explanation for doing that is here (
    If you click on the link to their videos, watch Beethoven’s 5 Secrets. What a joyous performance that transcends age and nationality!


    • April 25, 2017 3:14 PM

      Hi Margy, great to see you, and thanks for that superb feedback. The author refers to “our music, once the great unifier among the wild, the beautiful, and the damned…” Hmm. That last part has a self-congratulatory ring. She’s restricting “music” to music that unites us (the politically correct good guys) against everyone who has a different opinion. And that’s a shame.

      I had never heard of The Piano Guys, and I’m in your debt. I read their Why We Performed statement, and was enormously impressed, especially with the lines: “We believe that differences are meant to be celebrated, not calculated. If you know our music, you know that we painstakingly, prayerfully write and perform it with the intention to give it the greatest potential to lift others and break down barriers, not build them.” Amen. Art and music have the power to hurt or heal, divide or unite. And we (patrons, listeners) need to keep that in mind when choosing whom to support.

      Cheers, Margy, and thanks again for sharing that link!


  3. April 25, 2017 11:01 PM

    Happy Spring, mon ami! Cherry blossoms are in the hood! 😀

    When I first saw the ad I didn’t get its message (or purpose)……..just thought it was silly. To my surprise, the next day it blew up all over social media! LOL, Pepsi causes dysPepsia!!! 😜 Keep Calm and burp?

    Love the “Call out the clowns” and “Live free or diet soda” bit along with the skull and toilet paper underfoot. Trust you to lay the groundwork for puns intended.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 26, 2017 4:40 PM

      Cherry blossoms in the ‘Hood!– haw! Spoken like a true gangsta. There’s a rap song in there somewhere, but I dun think we wanna look too hard for it… 😼🔨

      Happy Spring! It’s in the air somewhere, as I tried to explain to my goldfish after he complained about the missing water in his bowl… 🐠🚽

      Loved “dysPepsia” and “Keep calm and burp”– have you considered a career as an advertising copywriter?? You could press your ear against a policeman’s stomach, and say: “I just wanted to hear the pudding singing in the copper!” Dickensian humor– you just can’t beat it… 😂🔫

      I knew you’d be scouring the margins and backgrounds for my little jokes. There’s a dead bird in an empty birdbath in there somewhere. Thankfully it didn’t spark any angry tweets… 🐔🐤🐦🐧🐥⚡️⚡️🔥💣💥🚑

      Lovely to see you, mon amie. Keep smilin’, and may yer fizz never fizzle!! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 26, 2017 4:48 PM

        Dickensian makes sense as most of my puns usually invite a “What the Dickens?!” in response. 😀

        Another pun just for fun: Bold flames can’t hold a Kendall, boo hoo! 😉 Haw, haw!

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 26, 2017 8:07 PM

          Jenner-ly speaking, your puns are excellent– even the ones caused by an undigested bit of beef, or a fragment of underdone aloo gobi… 🍠🍜😂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. April 30, 2017 11:27 AM

    If one doesn’t take the Pepsi commercial and police imagery too seriously, ok. The police like any other occupational group is full of wide range of personalities in some difficult roles.

    As for marketing to target groups, there are very simple things to make it better…just include mass crowds full of racially diverse crowd..and not always have the central figure white or young/nubile. It’s that simple.

    It really is that simple.

    I work for govn’t in a prairie city of over 1 million that is increasingly non-white over the past decade. But a lot of the people imagery in govn’t continued to be Caucasian. I wrote as a private citizen. I also have been to internal meetings, where the same suggestion was made by other employees.

    It takes a while for that messaging to sink in.and to be acted on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • May 1, 2017 8:26 AM

      Great advice, Jean, thank you. I think advertisers tend to “take sides” (= feature The Young and The Nubile) because they’re afraid of not looking “hip.” They opt for “hip” rather than just being honest, and acknowledging everyone in the room (so to speak). That’s a shame, because it subtly encourages division, rather than unity.

      Perhaps there will come a day when ads and marketing will simply feature people (all demographics) in a natural, unselfconscious way that says, “We’d like to serve everyone.” If and when that happens, I’ll know we’re making progress.

      Great to see you, many thanks for your insightful comment.

      Liked by 2 people

      • May 1, 2017 6:55 PM

        For some organizations how they market, they are moving in that direction. Takes time.


  5. RKLikesReeses permalink
    May 5, 2017 1:42 PM

    Hi, Mark! BRAVO! I visited the site, found the article. Your illustration strikes the perfect note and sings beautifully with the text! Your details always compel me to look longer and more closely. Having the musical instruments be such vibrant colors does a great job of accentuating the topic of music.

    My take on this is that music has extraordinary power to unite, yes, but also divide. humanity’s always responded viscerally to music – the rhythm, the harmony, the melody – all of it. But music has been dividing social, economic, and religious groups for hundreds (maybe thousands?) of years. I guess every generation – and stratification – needs theme music and that music usually does a wonderful job of uniting the group that first claims it.

    Not sure where I’m going with this. I typed a couple of paragraphs of examples, from Beethoven to Presley to “Fortunate Son,” but it all turned really boring, reallyfast, so I deleted it. LOL – I spent the first third of my life in music ed. and it’s never far from my mind even now. Just wanted to put my 2 cents in even if they don’t add up to anything useful.

    And re controversy? You’re right, of course, that it creates engagement and being kind always matters. But it’s soooooooo easy to offend, no matter how much care’s been taken. Yowee, scares me. I’ve posted work with a strong point of view and then taken it down when people “got it” bec I was afraid that someone “on the other side” would attack me. I’ve had that happen and don’t want to again. ::shivers::

    I admire people with courage, wish I had more of it.
    Thank you for posting this one, Mark. It’s making me think and think again. That’s VERY special.

    Liked by 1 person

    • May 10, 2017 6:11 PM

      My dear RK!! Many thanks for your kind and insightful comment. If I had a band, I’d strike it up and salute you with The Reeses Sonata in Peanut Butter Flat Major!! 🎹🎸🎷🎺🎻🎶💥

      I suppose a lot of music is naturally divisive– the old joke about teens embracing music their parents hate comes to mind. My folks’ weren’t too keen about Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen, as I recall. On the other hand, we all used to watch The Lawrence Welk Show together, and– far as I know– we all enjoyed it (eye-rolling, wisecracks about polka music, and making fun of LW’s accent were all permitted).

      Music Ed– yes, that’s right, I knew that about you, but had forgotten. Your comments are never boring, and your input is always valued– I’d be very glad to hear your views on Ludvig B., Elvis the Pelvis, John Fogerty, or any other musical influence. Yes, even Lawrence Welk!!

      So true: we live in a world of the easily offended these days. So easily offended, many of them are working hard to stamp out free speech (which they have rechristened “hate speech”), lest they hear a contrary opinion. Sigh. Oh well, it could be worse– at least we’re not living on a college campus!! 😄😢

      You’re an artist. That means you’re courageous by definition. And dun you fergits it, see??? Thanks again for your lovely comment!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. May 9, 2017 5:01 PM

    Maybe it would’ve been better if it was just the march and people got thirsty so drank Pepsi… No celebs or police involved… Ah Well! Fun illustration you made anyway! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • May 10, 2017 6:42 PM

      If I’d been directing that commercial, people would have been carrying signs saying: “Hooray 4 Annie Dalton!!” and “We Love Annie!!” And they’d’ve been marching past other signs saying: “Annie Art Show Today!” and “Dalton Does Drawings, Daubs & Doodles!!” Then at the end, they’d’ve all toasted you with Pepsi. Yeah– yeah, I think that woulda worked… : )

      Nice to see you, Annie, many thanks for your kind comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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