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Nike vs Pepsi: Who missed the mark?

Nike vs Pepsi: Who missed the mark?

Nikola Marijan

America’s Diversity

In schools they use to teach that our country was a melting pot, where each culture and heritage blended together to become one. Recently schools began teaching that the United States is more like a tossed salad where each culture specifically stands out and has its own appearance and taste. The United States has come a long way with including various cultures, but it was not always an easy path for diversity especially when it came to companies including diversity in their advertisements and high profile campaigns.
Diversity is the coming together of various ethnicity and cultures. It shows that we are not all cookie cutter and have our own unique traditions and backgrounds depending on where we descended from. Ever since 1619, when African Americans were captured and brought to the United States and forced into a life of slavery they had to fight for their right to be free, the right to vote, to today when they fight against police brutality.

Colin Kapernik

Last year, Nike launched a highly controversial campaign that used Colin Kapernik as the spokesperson for their brand. Kapernik was a former Heisman trophy winner and was drafted to the San Francisco 49ers. He became famous for supporting the movement #Blacklivesmatter that started in protest of police brutality. Kapernik wanted to use his platform to show his support for his beliefs and culture by kneeling during the National Anthem before each NFL game began. Unfortunately what was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration caused a lot of backlash from fans and others outside of the NFL world.


The movement of #BlackLivesMatter started on June 13, 2013. The hashtag began to trend on social media after law enforcement Officer George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing 17 year old African American Trayvon Martin. The hashtag not only stands for more than police brutality, but also for social injustice. It shows the divide in our country and how prevalent racism is still today over 200 years after slavery first began.
Racism is the discrimination against someone because of their race. While inequality is the imbalance of rights between groups.

Nike’s Controversial Campaign

In August 2018, Nike released its 30th anniversary campaign. Nike had kept Kapernik signed throughout his “kneeling” and the protests that were sparked against the NFL for allowing him to “disrespect” the United States. In an era where more African Americans than ever are speaking out against social injustice, Nike thought it would be the perfect time to launch their ad focusing on the NFL player.
The campaign when first launched, received a lot of back lash. Many people began protesting Nike by burning their apparel and causing a drop in their stock. Nike made headlines and had people on both sides of the issue weighing in on the campaign.

The campaign begins with Kapernik narrating while clips of people from all walks of life such as Caucasians, those with disabilities, African American men and women, and middle eastern are shown working towards their dreams. The opening line is “If people say your dreams are crazy” and continues on to use negative words that are often said to put others down. Then he continues to talk about not having to be the fastest in the school or the world, but the fastest ever. He expressed that it’s important to not only succeed and be the best, but dream that instead of wearing someone else’s jersey with their name on it, that they are wearing a jersey with your name and do something with that platform. It highlights the quote “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” by cutting to Kapernik in the ad, it was meant to highlight that it is believed he was blackballed from the NFL for his beliefs. It continues with showing famous athletes such as Serena Williams and how they chased their dreams to succeeded. The final words are “Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy, but ask if they are crazy enough” and fading out with Nike’s infamous slogan “Just Do It”.

Success of the Campaign

If this campaign was developed with a different athlete instead of Collin Kapernik it would not have been as controversial or as talked about. It shows that people are colorblind to what the campaign was really trying to promote. Colorblindness is when people ignore culture, social cues and are not aware of how they affect individuals or groups.

Nike didn’t only focus on African American athletes, but rather people from all walks of life. They showed an empowerment of others and that anyone is capable of achieving their dreams if they work hard enough. The question is though, do we boycott a whole company just because they do something that we don’t believe in? It is right for us as not only Americans, but human beings to disrespect another because their fight is different than ours?
While Kapernik is fighting for racial equality, in the video the young boy who is a paraplegic is fighting to succeed like someone with two legs, while others are trying to succeed even though there are barriers because of the environment that they are growing up in.

The Bigger Picture

We become blind to the bigger picture. Just because there is one aspect of something that we don’t agree with. Nike used what was going on in the world around them to not only promote their product, it gave them a chance to see what people really cared about more; a small fragment of the campaign, or something much larger that they were trying to accomplish. They knew just the presence on Kapernik would be enough to get people talking from all walks of life, and all age groups. The Washington post took a poll and noted that majority of Americans were in favor of the campaign. They also noticed that there was a difference in age groups of who support the campaign and those who were against the campaign. It was found that those between the ages of 18-34 mostly had a positive reaction. While those who were 65 and older were against the message the campaign was trying to spread.
Pepsi missed the mark

Nike was able to create a successful campaign focused around diversity and promoting someone who allies with the Black Lives Matter movement. However this past year another company tried to drive their campaign based on a similar cause, and it ended with the campaign being unsuccessful.
Pepsi used supermodel Kendall Jenner in April. This advertisement which was meant to promote unity within the African American and Police community ended up doing the complete opposite. Kendall Jenner, a 5’10” white American, got her start on the long running reality series, “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and later began walking in runways and modeling for high fashion brands. While these details may not seem important they might have played a key role in why there was so much backlash.

Pepsi synopsis

In the campaign it begins with what appears to be a Chinese American playing the cello. Then it cuts to a protest where people of all walks of life are protesting for peace. These people just like Nike campaign, included African Americans, Muslim, Asians, and LGBTQ. Throughout the video the camera pans back and forth from Kendall Jenner who is posing for a photo shoot to the protest.

While the photo shoot is going on Kendall keeps turning her attention to the protest, looking at it with awe. As the advertisement progresses it shows the cellist walking in the protest after he has taken a sip of Pepsi, while a young Muslim girl sees the protest go by and quickly grabs her camera to join. Kendall Jenner stops her photo shoot when she sees them join, she rips off her blonde wig and makeup to become a part of the movement. She can be seen moving through the crowd as the cameras cut to the police officers watching the protest making sure it is peaceful.
The advertisement ends with Jenner walking up to a police officer and handing him a Pepsi. As this is done the Muslim girl is taking a picture of what is transpiring. After Jenner joins the crowd again where everyone is cheering, hugging, and promoting one another.

Music meanings

An important part to note of the advertisement is the music which throughout sings lines such as “We are the Lions, We are the chosen”, and “They try to take our rights away”. The music promotes equality and fighting for the right to be heard. It works with the advertisement to speak of a generation who is trying to be heard and fight for what is right.

Changes to succeed

Where Pepsi was neglectful with their advertisement was at the very end when Jenner could be seen giving the police officer the Pepsi. It created backlash, because of course a young, white, beautiful female doesn’t have to worry about going near a police officer whereas, African American women often fear for their lives when they come near one, especially in a protest environment.
If Pepsi would have changed who the person was that handed the cop the Pepsi, then the reaction to the campaign might have been entirely different. If an African American was the one handing the police officer the Pepsi then it might have shown that Pepsi wants to promote an end to police brutality by showing someone who it directly affects. Overall the advertisement did a great job of showing how simple changes in advertisements and campaigns for companies can be the difference between success and the ultimate downfall.

How to succeed in advertising

When creating a successful campaign that creates buzz and gets people talking, it’s important to be aware of the social issues occurring in today’s society. When businesses are more informed and have an understanding of what resonates with people, then they can create inspiring campaigns and advertisements. It is always important to be aware of how each small fragment and tiny details come together to translate the bigger picture that is being seen.

Works cited:

About The Author

Nikola Marijan

My name is Nikola Marijan and I am currently a senior at the University of Tampa. I am graduating in May with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. I am originally from Serbia, coming to the United States 5 years ago. I was previously a NCAA basetball player for Division 1 and 2. I want to work in sports communication after I graduate. Sports have always been my passion and I look forward to having a career oriented around them.

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