PepsiCo is once again learning the risks of celebrity partnerships after an ad for Mountain Dew was criticized for portraying racial stereotypes and making light of violence toward women.
The soda and snack food company said it immediately pulled the 60-second spot after learning that people found it was offensive. The ad was part of a series developed by African-American rapper Tyler, The Creator, and depicted a battered white woman on crutches being urged to identify a suspect out of a lineup of black men.
A goat character known as Felicia is included in the lineup and makes threatening comments to the woman, such as “Ya better not snitch on a playa” and “Keep ya mouth shut.”
The woman eventually screams “I can’t do this, no no no!” and runs away. The word “do” is in apparent reference to the soft drink’s “Dew It” slogan.
Mountain Dew, known for its neon color and high caffeine content, is generally marketed to younger men and sometimes attempts to have edgier ads. But the controversy over the company’s latest spot illustrates the fine line that companies must walk when trying to be hip.
It’s not the first time a major brand has taken heat after trying to align itself with a celebrity to appeal to younger consumers.
In fact, Mountain Dew also was criticized recently because of its endorsement deal with Lil Wayne, whose rap lyrics compared a rough sex act to the tortuous death of Emmett Till, a black teen who was murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. And last month, Reebok also ended its relationship with Rick Ross after he rapped about giving a woman a drug to have his way with her. Women’s groups and rape victims issued petitions in protest.
“For brands that are going after a young demographic, they’re always walking that fine line between getting in trouble and appealing to their audience,” said Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, a marketing firm based in Atlanta.
If PepsiCo had created an ad for Mountain Dew, Ries said it might not have been considered edgy or cool. But by handing over control to a celebrity, she said the company ran the risk of having an ad that wasn’t appropriate.
PepsiCo Inc., based in Purchase, N.Y., apologized in a statement and said it understood how the ad could be offensive.
Jen Ryan, a spokeswoman for PepsiCo, said the company learned from its consumer relations team on Tuesday that people found the ad offensive. She said the company was told by Tyler that he would remove it from his YouTube channel as well.
Ryan said that Tyler had “final approval” over the ad but did not know the details of PepsiCo’s involvement. The ad was never intended to run on TV, she said.
A publicist for Tyler, the Creator did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. His raps have been criticized for being misogynistic and homophobic at times but he has also expressed support for the singer Frank Ocean, who revealed he was bisexual.