Pepsi failed the world’s poor

Jack Wakefield unpacks the motives behind protests, looking at how drinks giant, Pepsi missed the mark in their recent advert. 

Even if you missed the advert, it’s likely you’ve seen the outrage caused by Pepsi’s latest advertising campaign. It’s attracted criticism from across the political spectrum for trying to use a generic protest to sell their soft drink.

Pepsi apologised but defended the advert, describing it as various groups of people embracing a spontaneous moment’; and Kendall Jenner, the star of the ad, remarked: ‘I love spontaneity and just picking up and doing something when I have a moment to’.

Protest can be spontaneous, for sure, but only when it’s a reaction to something. It’s not about embracing a moment, but channeling your fresh outrage into something you hope will cause change.

Protests happen as reactions to injustices that simply cannot be ignored.

Protests have a cause, they’re sparked by anger, hurt and outrage, and protests cling to the hope of a better tomorrow.


But Pepsi’s advert contained none of these things.

No cause, no outrage, no injustice, and no hope.

In their attempt to stand for everyone, Pepsi stood for nobody. In attempting to simply sell their drink, they failed to recognise the whole point of protest.

Ieisha Evans, who’s photo is thought to have influenced the advert, did not join a Black Lives Matter protest for the excitement of spontaneity. She stood there because Philandro Castile was pulled over by police for a broken rear light, and then as he reached for his license as requested, was shot four times.

Ieisha was there because Alton Sterling was smashed against a car bonnet and then pinned to the ground by two police officers, who then proceeded to draw their guns, and shoot a restrained man at least six times5.

Pepsi captioned their advert ‘live for now’, but Ieisha was there because Philandro and Alton can no longer live, because racially-motivated violence remains a systemic problem in US law enforcement.

Pepsi tried to glamourise protest for profit, glossing over the fact protests only occur as a response to something unacceptable. It’s not about ‘live for now’ – it’s about ‘now’ being nowhere near good enough.

Over the years, companies have taken stances on protest movements, they’ve influenced decision makers and helped to create change. But Pepsi did not choose a cause. They played it safe by choosing to have nondescript placards and a meaningless protest.

And because they created a protest without a cause, Pepsi sidelined the voices of the oppressed – the very thing protest exists to amplify. Like a speech without words.

I’ve been at Tearfund for six months, and one of the most inspiring things I see, is the commitment to amplifying the voices of those affected by poverty and injustice. I’m inspired by the way Tearfund believes in the power of local churches to create change, and empowering them – not us – to lead the change in their communities.

And when it comes to protesting and campaigning for change, we believe in raising our voices so that ultimately theirs are heard.

Right now there are so many reasons for protest. But none of these are for the excitement of spontaneous fun. As we engage in popular movements, and in politics, let our reasons be Philandro and Alton in the USA, let them be those already affected by climate change like Sylvia or Lyson in Malawi. Let them be real people who we pray for, who our hearts break for, and who we’re willing to step up for and defend.

Let’s not make the same mistakes as Pepsi and join in for fun, but let’s commit to amplifying the voices of those who are victims of poverty and injustice.

Let’s stand for something that matters.


You can find out more, and join in with, Tearfund’s campaigning on things that matter by visiting Tearfund Action or following @TearfundAct on twitter.

And if you’re interested in what kind of world we both stand for and hope for, check out our Restorative Economy vision and the Renew our World website.