As a millennial icon, Kendall Jenner should have been celebrating being named the new face of Pepsi, a global brand known for working with superstars like Britney Spears, Beyoncé and Cindy Crawford. She should have been popping a cork with Kris Jenner and toasting to the undoubtable millions that they both were making from this deal. She should have been making the most of the endorsement through multiple Instagram posts broadcasting the news.
Instead, she has gone dark.
As you have probably heard, Kendall’s first ad with Pepsi did not go over well. It was rebuked by nearly everyone on the internet, mainly because it attempted to capitalize on the current precarious political climate. The ad featured “protesters” who mostly just seemed happy to be with Kendall. Signs contained phrases like “Join the Conversation” – a toned-downed version of signs that we’ve seen at actual protests this year. To put it lightly – not a smart move by Pepsi.
What was truly interesting about the fallout from this ad, however, wasn’t the creative. What piqued my interest was who seemed to be taking the blame for the distasteful campaign – Kendall herself.
Many publications led their coverage of the controversy with titles that made it clear they thought that it was “Kendall Jenner’s ad”. While Pepsi was mentioned as the product featured, it seemed like many outlets considered this tragic advertisement Kendall’s responsibility.
Fashion’s Problem with the Blame Game
This isn’t the first time that a model has taken the heat for a campaign that has drawn public backlash. Earlier this year, Karlie Kloss was skewered for appearing in yellowface in a Vogue photoshoot that featured traditional Eastern clothing. Kloss was forced to apologize, while Vogue did not give a public apology.
Is it normal that we associate the faults of a campaign with its face? Probably. Is it fair that we blame a single individual for a campaign that was concepted by a far more powerful organization?
Pepsi is an incredibly large conglomerate. It has global brand power and billions of dollars on hand to develop innovative and thought-provoking creative. For a celebrity, a contract with Pepsi is the stepping stone toward lasting fame – and a large paycheck.
On the other hand, Kendall Jenner is a cultural phenomenon herself. She has more public-facing power than possibly any other model in the industry today. If anyone were able to stand up to Pepsi’s creative team and influence them to move in a different direction, it would be Kendall Jenner.
So in the Kendall Jenner Pepsi Case… Whose Fault Is It?
Unpopular opinion: this one’s not on Kendall.
I understand where that opinion comes from: Kendall Jenner is an adult who has to take responsibility for her business decisions. She is more than capable of deciding what is right and wrong morally. If she can advocate for a presidential candidate, then she has to put in the work to understand the issues.
But hear me out.
Why would we put all of the blame on a 21-year-old woman who was hired for a specific role in a campaign? There were dozens of extras on set for the same ad – do they share that blame? As a model, does Kendall Jenner have a responsibility to tell her employer that their campaign is controversial?
Here’s what we should really be focusing on: Pepsi. We need to ask more from the corporations that take our money. Instead of blaming a model – who, let’s face it, was hired to look beautiful and promote the brand to her millions of followers – let’s blame the team that created the storyboard for this ad.
Sure, Kendall could have said no to the commercial. But how much did she know before she showed up on set that day? What did her contract entail – could she have really backed out? We don’t know all the details, so in my opinion it’s impossible to fully blame Kendall Jenner for participating in this ad.
Going forward, let’s hold big companies and publications accountable. Instead of choosing the easy target, a young model who was doing her job, let’s look at the bigger picture and blame the brand who had the idea in the first place.