Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Media Elitist Speaks: The Pepsi Commercial Controversy

For many, the Superbowl is about the final match up between the two best teams in the NFL.  I am not one of those people. For me, it's all about the commercials.  After all, the commercial are a major part of the game.  Advertisers spend exorbitant amounts of money on their spots and they're hoping that their ad will be unique enough to capture shopping dollars from viewers.  With all of that on the line, it's a battle to see the biggest, funniest, flashiest, and most outrageous commercials.

Sunday night's Superbowl was no different--the commercials were full of gimmicks and celebrity endorsements.  One commercial, however, has generated a lot talk that I'm sure the ad executives didn't anticipate.  If you somehow miss the cries of outrage from African American women everywhere, here is the ad in question:

I won't lie to you all, I didn't see anything wrong with this Pepsi ad the first time I watched it.  The beginning sort of confused me but when the couple ran after hitting the white woman with the can? I laughed. I watched it again Monday morning and still didn't feel much.  I wasn't outraged and I didn't feel like suddenly running out for a Pepsi.  I just chalked it up to a Three Stooges style of comedy and moved on.

Apparently my first reaction fell into the minority.  I soon realized that many people were offended. Offended? But why? I asked myself (and a friend I knew wouldn't judge me) these questions and soon learned the answer. Angry black woman stereotypes + physical abuse + white woman lust=indignation and frustration.  So I thought about it and watched the commercial again.  I recognized all the elements.  Far too often, African American women are portrayed as sassy and snappy in the media.  Must we get hit with this notion over and over and over again?!? Is there any doubt that the commercial would have been equally effective if the woman gave her man a "no you don't" look and replaced his junk food with a healthier option? Couldn't a mischievous look from her, play off of a bewildered one from him and still lead to comedy gold? Wouldn't a different twist be the man catching his woman drinking something unhealthy and mimic her behavior by switching it with a Pepsi Max? If the scowls, kicks, and googly eyes at another woman were gone completely, would the commercial simply fall apart? We may never know.

I have another confession--while I see and understand the issues, I am still not outraged.  I feel sort of bad that I'm not bonding with sisters over this issue but it hasn't really hit me in that same way. However, I completely agree that the media desperately needs to diversify the way African American are depicted. We're constantly shoved into a box that will never bring to light all that we are.  It may be easy to brush it off by saying, It's just a commercial or It's TV-It's meant to entertain but for those with no real insight to who we are, it becomes an assumed reality. And that's something I just can't brush off with ease.

This was the (relatively) easy part: identifying and discussing the problem. Now for the tough part: finding solutions.  How can we start to see changes in the way we are depicted? My theory? We need to start grooming our young people to not only work in media, but also to seek out higher level positions(I know, I know--I have such big dreams).  Perhaps large scale letter writing campaigns to major ad companies would become a persistent enough voice to get heard (in time).I also hope that students studying media in school(whether it's PR/Advertising, radio production, or television/film) are learning that techniques that can lead to success in their field and ways to execute them without compromising our public perception.  These ideas may not be feasible right now, but the reality is that we need to find some way to inspire change unless we want to have these same discussions 50 years from now.

 So Dear Readers, it's time to get your feedback: What are your thoughts on this Pepsi commercial?  Has your opinion changed in any manner? Do you have any idea on how we can diversity our public image?

I'd love to hear from you!


  1. I thought the ad was funny to where it captured the sentiments you're feeling right now--and they wanted to evoke the exact reaction that you have right now.
    Nothing is by accident in an ad--especially one that cost nearly $3 million or so to air.
    I mean ask yourself this... would a majority of black women NOT be upset that a black man made eyes at a white woman in her presence?
    Now look at the ad and tell me it was not the logical (and humorous) outcome. :-)

  2. I thought the ad was funny at first. I wasn't outraged like everyone else. As I read your post, I see why people were outraged though. It does give off a bad image to black women. And as I watch it again, I am not mad, but I do see what the big outrage was about.

    I think we need to have ppl of color in the various Marketing depts who can say no that is not cool and not allow it to go to TV.