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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.
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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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