You know the one. Pepsi has pulled it from YouTube, but as of this writing you can still see it on AdAge’s site. The ad Dr. Martin Luther King’s daughter Bernice responded to thusly.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 5, 2017
Here is Pepsi’s apology:
Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.
This is not the worst apology, but it’s not the best, either.
The good: No excuses, acknowledgment of wrongdoing, no “sorry if” or “to those who were offended,” a direct and non-pussyfooting “we apologize.”
The bad: “We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.” PEPSI, NO. A good apology names precisely what it is apologizing for. Tell the public that you understand why the ad was so offensive. No matter how painful that is. That is an important part of reparations.
Your treated police brutality as a cute marketing op. You erased racism as a driving force of the real-life narrative. You posited a condescendingly simple answer to an endemic problem. You cast Kendall Jenner, a celebutante model, as white savior to marginalized people. You turned anger and grief into Coachella-manque. And in Ajayi’s words, your ad “trivializes the real danger people are in when they take to the streets, and put their bodies on the line in the name of fighting for justice. Basically, it Kardashians the Movement, taking all the depth from the work, and turning it into some celebration for hipsters who just want to hold signs.”
(And not to attempt to sound in any way woke, as I am an elderly white person, but thanks to my Culturally Sensitive Upstander Training — its actual name — led by a Muslim community leader last week, I learned another thing! Despite Kendall Jenner’s bravery in taking off her blonde wig and wiping off her dark plum lipstick (wait, lipstick is the oppressor? I need help here) and interrupting her lucrative modeling job to lead an ambiguously unfocused hot-Benetton-youth protest, the headscarf-wearing Muslim lady photographer would probably not be so overcome by Kendall’s artistic-block-ending presence that she’d launch herself at a male stranger and hug him. My understanding is that this would not be a thing among most observant head-scarf-wearing female Muslims, no matter how inspiring a Kardashian’s lipstick-removal may be.)
ANYWAY. PEPSI. Say what you did wrong.
And then: Say how this ad made it all the way through the creative process to fruition, and say what you will do to ensure that something similarly boneheaded won’t happen again. Were there any people of color in the room? If not, what specific steps will you take to remedy this? What are your policies for encouraging the talents of people of color within your organization?
Do not merely pledge to do better (a phrase that usually appears in boilerplate corporate apologies, and you didn’t do that, so hey, kudos for not using empty words?). Tell us PRECISELY WHAT YOU INTEND TO DO to right the wrong. And in concert with turning that lens inward, tell us of the donations you are going to make (and hey, maybe ask Iesha Evans, the nurse whose image you co-opted for this monstrosity, where she would suggest you make donations) as part of your attempts at redemption.
Finally, I point individuals as well as multinational sugar-water corporations to SorryWatch’s handy-dandy list of how to apologize well. Please bookmark it for future reference.
— David Weiner (@daweiner) April 4, 2017
“Oh nevermind. He ordered a Pepsi.” pic.twitter.com/hujesuLrEA
— Eric Spring (@ericleespring) April 5, 2017
“Hold my wig, Keisha. I’ve got some liberating to do!”
“Um, it’s Jennifer.” pic.twitter.com/pgcqsGAQGu
— Tax-free Hands. (@thewayoftheid) April 4, 2017
— Will (@YeahItsWilly) April 5, 2017
Pepsi, your apology is fine as far as it went. It did not go nearly far enough.