BRB Gone Viral Pop Culture

Pepsi messed up big time – and so did these 8 other companies

What’s the big deal, you ask? The fact that in 20-freaking-17 there are still boardrooms full of people who are being paid to create advertising – it’s literally their job – that collectively seem to believe not only that racism and sexism are totally and completely okay, but also that they should be promoted by the media more than they already are.

Racism and sexism are absolutely still a mainstream problem in advertising; they are still being perpetuated blatantly. The public is exposed to them constantly and ultimately absorbs them unless they are actively trying not to.

Pepsi, Nivea and Shea Moisture are the most recent perpetrators of wildly backwards and offensive marketing, but unfortunately, they’re not the only ones. Check out these other commercials and print ads to get into the heads of the people who made them, how those people see the world, and what they’re willing to do to make money.

1. Pepsi

When did it air: 2017

What is it advertising: Pepsi

What’s wrong with it: Everything? Kendall Jenner as the face of the Resistance? The whole white woman as the savior of colored people thing? The trivialization of the Black Lives Matter movement? The turning of the issue of police brutality into a casual, laughing matter? The commercialization of the violence and tragedies that have occurred in black communities throughout the US? I could go on, but the commercial speaks for itself.

What happened next: Outrage. Pepsi has apologized. However, Pepsi also apologized to Kendall Jenner, who had read the script and still agreed to do the commercial. Sigh.

2. Nivea

When did it come out: 2017, Singapore

What is it advertising: Deodorant

What’s wrong with it: The association of “white” with “purity” juxtaposed with the image of the back of a white woman, ultimately glorifying whiteness and implying very heavily that anything other than white is not pure and thereby dirty. The ad is talking, presumably, about having lighter underarms as opposed to darker underarms, but this does not take into account the fact that only white people have white underarms. So, I guess only white people have attractive underarms? Okay, cool.

What happened next: Nivea has been slammed on social media as a result of this very recent ad.


When did it come out: 2006, Holland

What is it advertising: Play Station Portable

What’s wrong with it: There is literally a white person grabbing a black person very aggressively and violently by the chin. There was really no other way to advertise a new color available for the PSP? We had to resort to this? What group of people thought this was an okay idea?

What happened next: People in the U.S. were particularly upset by this ad, and their collective criticism caused SONY to pull the ad; they did not apologize, however, claiming they were unaware of the implications of the ad outside of Holland. Apparently, this is okay in Holland, though?

4. Intel

When did it come out? 2007

What is it advertising? Improved Internet Speed

What’s wrong with it? Well, there is a professional, wealthy-looking white man standing in the center with his hands folded, looking smug and powerful, surrounded by muscular black sprinters in running position, meaning they are quite literally bowing down to the white man. This is extremely and appallingly inappropriate on a remarkable number of levels, the first being that it is reminiscent of slaveholders and slaves, and the second being that whoever created this and had the power to print it found it to be a normal and acceptable image.

What happened next? Due to public backlash, Intel apologized for the “insensitive” ad, claiming they had not realized it was offensive. I have to wonder if there were any black people involved in the decision-making process when this ad was given the go-ahead.

5. Nivea (again)

When did it come out? 2011

What is it advertising? Men’s Skincare Products

What’s wrong with it? It is implying that there was something wrong with the featured black man maintaining his natural afro and growing a beard. Even worse, in using the phrase “re-civilize” yourself, this ad is saying explicitly that the “natural” look of a black man is uncivilized. How about go back in time and de-colonize minorities, instead?

What happened next? Nivea apologized for their “unintentionally” offensive ad and pulled it. I don’t know about you, but tone and deaf are two words that come to my mind.

6. Shea Moisture

When is it from? 2017

What is it advertising? Moisturizer

What’s wrong with it? Shea Moisture has been supported primarily by black women, and this ad was probably an attempt to attract white women to the brand. That’s not a problem in itself – every brand needs to diversify its marketing. But using white women (and using more white women than black women) in what is essentially a “natural hair” commercial does not seem to me like the best way to go about marketing; it serves to diminish the discrimination black women face for their natural hair every day and have faced for generations.

What happened next? The public (namely, Twitter users) accused Shea Moisture of “whitewashing” and this led to the company issuing an apology. I can at least appreciate that the apology began with, “Wow, okay — so guys, listen, we really f–ked this one up.”

7. Burger King

When did it come out? 2009, Singapore

What is it advertising? Either food or oral sex, I can’t be too sure, to be honest.

What’s wrong with it? This is overtly sexist. We do not see men portrayed this way in any advertisements, so why is it okay to portray women giving blowjobs in advertisements that have literally nothing to do with women or sex? Fine, I get it, sex sells, but this is on an entirely different level. Especially because the model herself had no idea her photo was being used in this way.


When did it come out? 2009

What is it advertising? The benefits of “going vegetarian”

What’s wrong with it? Once again, for perhaps the billionth time, the female body is being used in a completely irresponsible, offensive way in order to sell something; this time, an idea is being sold instead of a product, but women are still the target. The ad is described by PETA itself as showing “a woman whose ‘blubber’ is spilling out of her swimsuit,” further emphasizing that the term “whales” is indeed meant to apply to the woman in the image.

What happened next? PETA replaced the ad, but did not apologize. Instead, they took to their website after replacing the ad and told the story of an overweight female supporter of PETA who was eager to try their 30-day vegetarian challenge and lose weight. In other words, there were no lessons learned in this case.

9. McDonald’s

When did it come out? 2013 

What is it advertising? The Big Mac

What is wrong with it? This ad makes fun of PSA ads that deal with issues like depression, anxiety, suicide, and more. Do we really need more trivializing of and laughing at matters of mental illness and suicide? Is that really helping to destroy the current stigma associated with seeking mental health support, or is it simply adding to the stigma? I’d say it’s the latter. Let’s stop joking about depression. Let’s stop joking about any and all mental illnesses. And let’s stop joking about suicide. I’m baffled that this needs to be said.

What happened next? McDonalds apologized when the issue was brought to light by viewers of the ad, claimed that the ad was unapproved and took it down immediately.

By Aafia Syed

Aafia is pursuing a Master's in Early Childhood Special Education at Bank Street College of Education. She is vocal about her personal challenges with mental illness and believes in bringing an end to both cultural and religious taboos. Her goals for the future include seeing Hamilton on Broadway, overcoming her own crippling stage-fright, and contributing to the destruction of the patriarchy.