By Kenzie Bryant. Photos: Courtesy of YouTube, Getty Images.
It was supposed to be a passing of the torch. The Pepsi ad starring Kendall Jenner, the one the brand pulled Wednesday after it whipped social media into an understandable frenzy with cries of appropriation and tone deafness, was originally positioned as the young model’s taking of the mantle from Cindy Crawford. The supermodel’s Pepsi ad, which debuted during the 1992 Super Bowl, capitalized on her then-burgeoning superstar status, but used her as a sex symbol, not a force of change as Jenner’s did when it debuted Tuesday.
A legacy soda company, it turns out, probably shouldn’t try to sell its product through the story of a reality-television denizen’s social awakening—especially when said reality-television denizen has avoided most forms of public engagement up until Tuesday. In pulling the ad, the company released the following statement: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.”
Jenner deleted all social media posts of herself in the ad. As of publication, she has remained silent about the ad being pulled. Pepsi, too, apologized for “putting Kendall Jenner in this position,” taking full responsibility for her inclusion. The spot would have been just as jarring with another model, one with a little less face or name recognition, but Jenner’s involvement multiplied the lightning-rod effect.
A lot of hay has been made of late about models and what kind of agency they have once they've signed the contractual dotted line. These days, when models and their brand collaborators make a misstep, the former is forced to apologize as is the latter.
Legend has it that at one time the job meant being a nameless, personality-less blank canvas for brands. Now, though, models command followings built on top of their own personal brands. Crawford, notably, helped augur in that change. Eons before Instagram she was one of the first models to assume a public personality, a known entity. But while the ’92 Crawford Pepsi ad launched the promise of model-as-brand, Jenner’s revealed the limits of it.
This story originally appeared on Vanity Fair.
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