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One thing was refreshing about the Pepsi ad: Schadenfraude


Thank God some words from German, the language of modern philosophy, have been imported into other languages. Take schadenfreude, “pleasure derived from other’s misfortune”.

Let us clarify a few things: this correspondent enjoys drinking Pepsi, very much. He does so without any feeling of remorse whatsoever. He has suffered long enough under the contradictions of public discourse in the free world, on both sides of the Atlantic, but especially on its newer shores. Are sodas good or bad for your health? Bad, would be the conventional wisdom response. But then they feel good with ice and to wash down a burger, right? Indeed. Are politicians who lie, lie, and lie—and then they deny that they did it in the first place—bad for democracy or good? Of course, they are bad! Very bad. But then they get elected, sometimes for the highest office in the land. Go figure.

So, your toiling writer has decided to follow Henry Youngman’s advice: “When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.” And this Fi writer has stopped listening to the doomsayers of medical intolerance and enjoys a good, cold glass of Pepsi or the competition, with ice and lemon, on a hot day or a cold one, with a pizza or anything else. He also enjoys those other drinks Youngman talked about, too. No guilt whatsoever.

The schadenfreude part comes with the very, very bad Pepsi ad. So bad, it seems thought out by a politician of the worst populist type. It basically involves someone called Kendall Jenner, famous as “a reality star.” What’s called reality on TV is phoniness, actually. And this “reality stars” belongs to a family your correspondent would rather forget about for a number of reasons (more on that some other time, hopefully never).

In the ad, Jenner falls for a good-looking Asian cellist at first sight (that’s how things work on “reality TV”), takes off her wig, wipes off her lipstick and hands a Pepsi to a cop, while a girl in hijab is taking her photo. Et voilà, peace and love for all.

That would have worked in the golden days of advertising, of lightly-clad models posing on a yacht to advertise cigarettes. Not anymore. No amount of goodwill packed in a few seconds of dancing and jumping around will do the trick anymore. Here are a number of reasons:

The “Pepsi generation” started in the 1960s. These baby boomers are now more worried about retirement, debt and other things that come with graying hair. They don’t really have time for those things.

The Internet has been a mixed blessing for critical thought. But things like Twitter not only have empowered people we’d rather forget about. They have also given voice to all those committed citizens who push back against the type of shallowness that was peddled from the TV screen unopposed for decades.

On a semiotic level, “Jenner’s action evokes the image of a Vietnam War protestor putting a flower in the barrel of a soldier’s gun,” as Bloomberg’s Virginia Postrel wrote. “Those too young to remember the Carter administration, however, are buying… the charge [that] it’s a crass repurposing of the photo of Black Lives Matter protester Ieshia Evans standing straight, proud, and elegant as police in riot gear arrest her.” In the era of Black Lives Matter and Women’s Marches, that juxtaposition was repulsive.

And finally, as Postrel points out, a little consistency would also help. Pepsi wants desperately to advertise itself as a company concerned for your health while it makes money selling sodas and fatty, salty snacks.

It’s true. You now go to tobacco company websites and they are as boring as reading the chemical components label on the back of a shampoo or the supreme portal of heavenly health and love. At least try an honest silence. This correspondent knows cheese is not good for his cholesterol levels. But he’d rather die before giving Parmesan (the real, Italian deal) up, lest one day the supreme conspiracy of the custodians of health have it taken off the supermarket shelves, too.


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