Can Pepsi End Police Brutality?

170405-pepsi-cr-0736_88adcd7bbc4e7a3459e5842cb5c9de14.focal-860x430In April 2017, Pepsi ran an ad that depicted several references to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Towards the end of the video, Kendall Jenner is shown handing a Pepsi can to a police officer in an effort to show the power of Pepsi in achieving solidarity. The ad was quickly met with backlash from social media users, with several feeling like the ad belittled the nationwide movement following several police shootings of African Americans.


Depicted on the right is Iesha Evans, a nurse who participated in Black Lives Matter protests in Baton Rouge. Activist DeRay McKesson states that, “This ad trivializes the urgency of the issues and it diminishes the seriousness and the gravity of why we got into the street in the first place.”


Bernice King, daughter of famous activist Martin Luther King Jr. mocked the ad tweeting, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi”.

Pepsi apologized for the ad and ultimately pulled the controversial ad from circulation.


The company claimed the ad “features multiple lives, stories and emotional connections that show passion, joy, unbound and uninhibited moments.” They chose Kendall Jenner to star in the ad because they believe she “exemplifies owning ‘Live For Now’ moments.”

Pepsi claims this campaign was to show solidarity with current events going on throughout the nation. Public Relations staff is tasked with the responsibility to oversee campaigns and content meant to increase customer engagement with a product. However, how far is too far? Where is the line between staying current and exploiting important events/movements in order to promote a product?

Adding Insult to Re-Accommodation

On April 9, 2017, passengers boarded a commercial United Airline aircraft for what was expected to be a routine flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky. After the flight was fully boarded, the crew realized the flight was overbooked and they were unable to complete their duties during the flight. As Buiness Insider reported, the airline requested four volunteers to abdicate their seat for the crew; however, no passengers volunteered. The airline then randomly selected four passengers to remove from the flight, including David Dao, a Kentucky-based doctor. Dao adamantly and repeatedly refused to relinquish his seat, leading to the involvement of Chicago Aviation Security Officers. The officers forcefully removed Dao from the flight, resulting in several injuries. Tyler Bridges, a passenger on the flight, recorded the incident and posted the video on his personal Twitter account, eliciting public rage. View the video here.

Oscar Munoz, United CEO, released the following statement on April 10, 2017, via the airline’s Twitter to address the incident:

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United Airlines received intense criticism on Twitter and in the media for the statement, specifically for the word ‘re-accommodate,’ as many individuals believed the response to be tone-deaf, disingenuous, and an oversimplification of the incident. “The idea that any of the four passengers whom United employees ordered off the plane[, especially Dao,] were simply ‘re-accommodated’ is absurd,” Jack Holmes of Esquire argued. “The idea that a man who was physically dragged off the plane, wailing in pain as blood rushed out of his head, was just ‘re-accommodated’ is grotesque.” Mark Macias of CNBC states that Munoz “used language to refer to the customer, whose face was bloodied in the process, and the three others who were bumped off the plane, like they were some kind of commodity.”

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On April 11, 2017, after heavy mockery and public shaming, Munoz apologized for the airline’s violent behavior:

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So what is the true position of Munoz and United Airlines? Should the second statement be regarded as the official apology of Munoz and United Airlines, or does the first statement communicate the true position of the company? Was the second apology issued out of public pressure and an attempt to save the airline’s reputation and regular business rather than a genuine concern for passengers? What conversations occurred at United Airlines that drastically shifted the message between the first and second apology?

Should United Airlines have responded to this crisis situation differently?