According to the World Bank's latest data, worldwide 767 million people live on less than $1.90 a day--which is about how much a bottle of Pepsi costs if you purchase it by the 24-pack online.

Yet, in her new (and now pulled) ad, Kendall Jenner and a lot of other well-dressed, well-groomed young people are protesting something while still being able to afford Pepsi and expensive clothes coordinated in Pepsi brand colors. In a weak attempt by Pepsi to not actively offend anyone, you're never sure what the protesters are protesting.

Instant backlash to the ad shows it wasn't what the protestors were protesting that's offensive--it's the entire ad, and using a celebrity famous for being the sister of someone more famous as a stand-in for protestors who face actual repression.

But there is a bright side to an ad that surely join the short list of worst ads ever.

Pepsi, a company normally thought of as a skilled marketer, managed to briefly unite a divided country by remind us of what we dislike about:

  • Celebrities who are famous for no explicable reason
  • Celebrities who are famous because they are related to celebrities who are famous for no explicable reason
  • The Kardashians/Jenners, specifically
  • Cynical companies trying to cash in on growing societal divisions by making obnoxious ads
  • The politicization of everything, even Pepsi

Protests play a legitimate role in a democracy. Four years ago, I took a road trip through the south. Crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, is a powerful experience. That bridge was the site of the Bloody Sunday Riot on March 7, 1965, when police attacked male and female marchers with billy clubs, tear gas, and their fists.

The visuals from those attacks played an important role in advancing the Voting Rights Act. That landmark bill was introduced in the Senate just ten days after Bloody Sunday, and was signed by Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, 1965.

Is every protest objecting to a legitimate societal ill?

No.

But protest itself is one of the most important ways citizens can directly influence their government. In nations where significant portions of the population have to try and survive on a daily income that is less than the cost of a bottle of Pepsi, protest may be the only way to influence the government.

That said, most protests are inherently divisive. There's always someone who supports the policy a protestor is objecting to.

That's not the case with Pepsi and Kendall Jenner, who managed to do what very few protests accomplish: unite a divided people.

So, despite producing one of the worst ads we've seen in a long time, you have to give them credit for that.

Published on: Apr 5, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.