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An Open Letter to PepsiCo regarding Mountain Dew ad – Rap Rehab

    It is an unfortunate truth that in the 21st century world of advertising, African Americans often continue to be portrayed in a demeaning and stereotypical manner.  Within the past week alone we’ve seen several examples of corporations apologizing for racist imagery, including a controversial online Mountain Dew ad.   

    While I, too, was turned off by the commercial, it’s refreshing to see a major corporation such as PepsiCo take ownership of the situation.  A Senior executive at PepsiCo, didn’t have to take my call, but they did.  As someone who has worked tirelessly on media justice issues for more than a decade and founding RapRehab and as co-founder of Industry Ears, a media think tank aimed at addressing racial disparities, I appreciate PepsiCo acting quickly and appropriately in recognizing that the advertisement was offensive to many and quickly removed within 6 hours from all channels. Trust me, quick responses never happen from corporate giants but in this case it did.

    Hindsight is indeed 20/20 and I respect that from PepsiCo.  However, in today’s global and progressive media market, the very fact that racially offensive advertisements continue to be suggested, fully developed and distributed speaks to a larger issue – a lack of cultural diversity and sensitivity and the perpetuation of historical insensitivity that breeds stereotypes and fuels divisiveness. 

    It is concerning that in the preliminary stages while creating the ad, nobody saw (or if they did, failed to speak up) that it may be potentially offensive. Surely it is reasonable to expect a seasoned team within a world market organization to recognize advertising which is blatantly offensive to any sector of global consumers.  We must demand more from advertisers, and after countless hours of decision, Pepsico agrees.

    PepsiCo has committed to a critical self-assessment of what went wrong in the company’s internal vetting process.  It will also promptly promote an open public dialogue about the importance of corporate sensitivity and commitment to banish any vestiges of culturally offensive stereotyping in advertising and related marketing agendas.  

    In the end,  PepsiCo can take solace and recognition that out of a horribly offensive and embarrassing situation there is hope for renewed and genuine action – rather than passive acknowledgement – to demand inclusive and respectful advertising on all levels of social, cultural and ethnic considerations.  Personally and professionally, I look forward to working with PepsiCo and other corporate consumer-based marketing powerhouses to stimulate responsible action on this important issue. 

    Paul Porter

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