If you haven’t heard about Pepsi’s snafu, featuring Kardashian spinoff, Kendall Jenner, then you must be a seriously accomplished off-the-grid dweller! To summarize (though likely unnecessary), the commercial took a serious issue – protesting in America and the Black Lives Matter moment – and erroneously used it to market something entirely inapplicable… A goddamn soda.
It paraded this idea that advocating for our rights as humans is as trivial as cracking open a Pepsi. It conveys the concept that solving the current turmoil in our country is as simple as sharing a pop. The backlash to the ad was tremendous enough that Pepsi pulled it within 24 hours and Kendall disappeared from the spotlight.
Around the same time, REI announced a new movement: Force of Nature. The initiative aims to advance gender equity, particularly in the outdoors. The end goal is the “world’s largest level playing field.”
While many of my female outdoor role models have praised REI for shifting the focus onto women and shoving the issue into the spotlight, I have noted some adverse reactions as well. Though it is far from the degree of the backlash towards Pepsi’s campaign, the counteractions are rooted in a similar problem…
… Are brands profiting off of our fight for our rights and the current social justice issues?
Personally, I don’t think the answer is so black and white.
Do I think REI’s Force of Nature was influenced by shift in the political atmosphere where women are more vocal about being treated as second-class citizens? Do I think REI is aware that 70-80% of all consumer purchasing is influenced by women? Do I think REI knows that now, more than ever, women are seeking brands that “understand” or “speak” to them? Do I think REI is conscious of the exponential growth of women’s impact in the outdoor industry?
The answer to all of the above: fuck yes.
When it comes down to it, REI is a company. Like most companies, their objective is to turn a profit and provide services and/or products to the general public. How do they do this? By executing incredible and on-brand marketing campaigns.
However, I do believe in a stark difference between how Pepsi and REI flipped these current issues into a profitable scheme. I also believe the companies contradict in their intent.
A quick Google search will rattle off PepsiCo’s contributions to the world – establishing Diplomas Now to prepare urban youth for secondary education and careers, funding clean water initiatives, and lending monetary support to a Culinary Arts Program in Los Angeles. Sure, it’s great this giant corporation is sharing their unfathomable wealth to better society, but with a corporation like Pepsi, it’s hard to believe that this desire to help comes from the heart; it feels more like a public relations stunt to persuade us to believe, “Hey! They’re not so bad!”
So when a giant corporation, like Pepsi, uses our battles for basic human rights to sell more soda, it feels like they are mocking us. It doesn’t feel like support, it feels insincere and even deceptive.
Pepsi’s ad blatantly screams, “We are not doing this because we care about you, we are doing this because we are under the impression that this makes us relatable to you millennials and therefore will make us money!”
It’s worth noting that with my admittedly minimal research, I could not dig up any proof of PepsiCo donating to BLM initiatives, or any human rights-related organizations with the exception of winning an award for their commitment to LGBTQ workplace equality.
I think what draws a fine line between the Pepsi commercial and REI’s Force of Nature campaign is REI is doing something to demonstrate their devotion to women, via this movement. Today, May 6th, signifies the commencement of Force of Nature with hundreds of events happening across the country on the day alone, including meet-ups, workshops, and classes all designed for women. The entire campaign encompasses over 1,000 outings total, with the intention of helping women get outside, hone their skills, and meet other like-minded ladies. Additionally, the company pledges to expand and improve it’s women-specific gear and apparel – sans the dreaded “shrink it and pink it” technique.
I’m also a fan of the campaign because unfortunately in today’s world, it takes the help of a big name with big monetary worth to make a big impact on an industry. While we have many incredible small organizations with the same agenda – to get girls and women outside – the truth is, REI has a stronger pull… Particularly with those who are strangers to adventure; the name “REI” is familiar and has a esteemed reputation.
But that’s not to say these small organizations will be swept under the rug in the face of REI’s campaign. The Force of Nature fund will divvy up $500,000 to help organizations that share the mission of creating a level playing field.
So yes, we can safely assume REI has a not-so-secret motive to captivate women as consumers, but needless to say, the company is putting their money where their mouth is.
Want to participate in Force of Nature? Head over to REI’s website to browse events for your area.
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If you’re interested in diving deeper into this issue, beyond REI and PepsiCo, I strongly encourage you to head over to Terra Incognita Media; while the author and I may disagree on some points, Erin’s piece deserves a thorough read and will change the way you look at many of the advertisements thrown in our face every day.
*Featured image by REI.