You won’t believe some of these ads.
By Taya Coates | Contributing Writer
Remember the 2017 Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner that completely fell flat? The clip culminated in a scene where Jenner handing an officer a Pepsi can brought peace to a police protest. This was not only offensive in the nature that it disregarded the reason for the real-world protests, but also because a white woman was painted as the hero in relation to the issue. Many went to social media to display their disgust for the ad, causing it to be a trending topic for weeks. Three years later, people still reference the ad tweeting things like, “we let Kendall Jenner live down that Pepsi commercial way too quickly” by user @bopplesnoots on August 31. Since this incident, companies have strayed away from publically commenting on Black Lives Matter and police brutality in fear of handling it wrong. With its Colin Kaepernick campaign, Nike has been the sole standout in showing support in an impactful and respectful way.
In August, an image emerged on social media of a drumstick producing a Black Power fist shadow. Appearing to be a meme or a satire post, the ad stunned viewers. Many social media users vocalized they were unsurprised to learn that Kentucky Fried Chicken was the culprit, but shocked to discover that it was the Trinidad and Tobago Instagram account responsible for the post. Some users came to the branch’s defense, stating that it was just the country’s sense of humor. Humorous to those who made it or not, this is incredibly insensitive to the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black fist has been a symbol of Black unity and resistance since the Black Panthers popularized it in the ’60s. To take this image and put it behind the picture of one of the most mindless stereotypes about Black people is unthinkable. The mockery of the hard work that is being done to change the culture in the U.S. reveals a larger problem in the Black community. How can we, as a people, move forward when we are still promoting and affirming our own negative stereotypes? The organization did release a lackluster apology on Instagram, saying, “Our intention was to support and recognize the importance of this historically significant event…Clearly we got it wrong, and we want to unreservedly apologize for the offense caused”.
On June 2, Instagram was flooded with Black squares captioned with the hashtag “#Blacklivesmatter” with an occasional black heart emoji or fist. In a mere few hours, the movement spread from the average personal account to every large brand you can think of. Many brands posted the Black square and said nothing else. These empty posts led to a nationwide conversation about performative activism online. As a result, many brands stepped up to the plate to propose internal changes. Nordstrom is an example of this use of the black square productively. Before posting the plain black square they posted a lengthy statement beginning, “This is a painful time for our country and for us. The events going on around all of us are heartbreaking, and we want to share a few thoughts with you in this open letter to our employees. -Pete & Erik Nordstrom”. The team also dedicated several posts on their feed rather than just one to ensure that all followers were exposed to information about Black Lives Matter. Almost two months later, on August 25, Nordstrom followed up with another black square post. This time, the company outlined its pillars and plans to make actual changes within the company. The luxury department store chain is a perfect example of a company staying “on trend” with their followers while posting meaningful content. No doubt, commenting on Black Lives Matter is a slippery slope for companies today. One wrong move can jeopardize the reputation and sales of a company for a long time. But when the movement is addressed with a little authenticity and heart, everyone’s goals can be met.