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Tone-deaf Pepsi ad draws global ire

April 7, 2017 GMT

A new commercial for Pepsi-Cola starring model and reality TV personality Kendall Jenner was retracted and pulled offline after being widely criticized for appearing to trivialize #BlackLivesMatter protests.

Following the international social media outcry, the company stood by the widely mocked ad and even issued a statement saying that the global ad “reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.”

The now-removed commercial, titled “Live For Now Moments Anthem,” starts with images of a protest as Jenner poses in a photo-shoot. When she sees protesters walk by, she removes her blond wig, hands it to a Black assistant to hold, wipes of her dark makeup and joins the protest. As Jenner weaves through the crowd of protesters, she grabs a can of Pepsi and hands it to a policeman in riot gear. As “Lions” by Skip Marley plays, Jenner smiles and joins the now-jubilant protesters.

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Black Twitter was especially pointed in slamming the ad for making light of #BlackLivesMatter and other social protests. “If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi,” Bernice King, daughter of assassinated Civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., tweeted with an image of her father being pushed by police. Ironically, the ad was released on the 49th anniversary of King’s assassination.

According to Ad Age magazine, the spot was created by PepsiCo’s in-house content creation arm, Creators League Studio. The studio is overseen by Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group who had praised the ad on Twitter on Tuesday morning shortly after it was released, saying he was “super proud of the @PepsiCo #CreatorsLeague for producing this.” Like the ad itself, the tweet has since been deleted.

By Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that Pepsi said in a statement it was “removing the content and halting any further rollout.”

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding,” the company said in a news release. “Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout.”

In its statement, PepsiCo apologized to Jenner for putting her “in this position.”