Pepsi proves that Americans need a lesson in emotional intelligence

The controversial ad is one example of a much broader failing EQ

By Erin Coulehan
April 7, 2017 2:58AM (UTC)
main article image

We’ve reached an inversion point in American history. For a country that has fought to establish itself as a home for tolerance, inclusion and intelligence, these defining qualities seem to have taken a sharp right turn, if not begun to devolve entirely. Although many technical advances are at our disposal, our emotional intelligence (sometimes called EQ) is spectacularly lacking.

Pepsi’s recent ad featuring Kendall Jenner exemplifies this trend in cringe-worthy detail. The ad’s magnificent failure is — much to the chagrin of many — emblematic of our culture: cashing in on buzzwords and trending topics as if social protest were the new skinny jean or whatever, tastelessly trying to look "woke" or cool by featuring brunch activities and casting a member of the Jenner-Kardashian clan in an effort to assert social relevance.


While these qualities are annoying albeit accepted separately, we’ve reached a cultural moment where enough is enough. Pepsi was blasted for the ad, with many people citing the overall emotional tone deafness that was meant to inspire people to want a crisp, cold, beverage. I’ll need a stronger drink than a soda if I’m expected to swallow all that BS.

The Pepsi ad failure is the latest example of a cultural lack of emotional intelligence because the aim of the campaign was to elicit an emotional response through aggrandizing a hot topic, in this case #resistance. The degree of insensitivity is so astounding that it seems to extend beyond the province of limited emotional intelligence by venturing into the realm of emotional ignorance. The makers of the ad seemed to blindly hope that combining various elements of pop culture would somehow unite potential consumers. The view of the ad was myopic, if not completely blind, to the gravity with which social resistance movements operate.

Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, addressed the ad on Twitter when she posted this:


“If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi.” The tweet serves to highlight the gross trivialization of the ad and lives of activists.

But that’s not the only example of EQ imbroglios.

A recent hot take to justify Republicans’ wish to defund PBS confirmed a lack of social awareness by showcasing a complete invalidation of other people’s experiences. In an effort to remedy the outrage of cutting free programming, the suggestion was made that (struggling, impoverished) families might simply buy a cable package so that children could enjoy all that premium television has to offer other than “Sesame Street.”


The proposal is a sweeping overgeneralization, as if every American has the financial luxury to opt for a cable plan. It’s negating, misguided and insensitive. I heard a similar suggestion not long ago regarding women’s options in the face of a defunded Planned Parenthood: “Women should just get on the patch or get injections if they can’t afford birth control pills. Or just tell them to stop having sex.” Simple enough, right? God forbid complicating factors like biological imperatives or sexual assault or simply factoring in a woman’s right to have agency over her own body.

Instances of stunted emotional intelligence are unfortunately pervasive within our culture and have intensified since November. In an effort to help spread social consciousness and emotional intelligence, every person can actively seek to be aware of his or her EQ. Some qualities of individuals with high emotional intelligence include speaking with precision, not mistaking opinion with fact, and engaging in discussion in order to learn or teach rather than “win.”


Pepsi was successful in piquing interest in social justice and resistance movements and making consumers realize we could all probably use a good examination of our values and emotional intelligence — as well as a cold drink.

Erin Coulehan

Erin Coulehan is a freelance journalist with work in Rolling Stone, Elle, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @miss_coulehan

MORE FROM Erin Coulehan

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Advertising Bernice King Black Lives Matter Corporate Culture Editor's Picks Kendall Jenner Pepsico