Rape Culture In Unexpected Places: New Pepsi Ad

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Pepsi has responded by denying and denouncing the ad.  Please see this post.


Other ads in the series show a monkey trading a Pepsi for the keys to a truck carrying bananas, and a young male trading a Pepsi for an astronaut’s space suit.

This ad is hugely offensive on its very face, but when compared to the other ads I think it provides an even clearer picture of what Pepsi thinks of its female consumers and women in general.  This is in absolutely no way “cute” because it’s a pubescent boy who is going to assault the woman, nor is it mitigated by the assumption that he won’t do anything other than kiss her.  It desperately bears noting that the woman is not only unconscious, but also in need of immediate medical attention — and in spite of the fact that if you could quite literally die in such a situation without proper care, her hotness and “availability” are still the most pressing concerns. Oh, and like a bunch of bananas, her bodily rights and very life are worth a can of soda.

HA.  Hilarious, right?

Contact Pepsi here. And while I don’t drink Pepsi itself, I can tell you that I’m off Pepsi’s Mountain Dew for some time now.


0 thoughts on “Rape Culture In Unexpected Places: New Pepsi Ad

  1. newslang

    I wrote them a pretty scathing email. Also, I’m going to bring this to the attention of my school’s dining hall since we’re Pepsi exclusive. Hopefully they’ll get the point that, using a product who’s company just came out as supporting rape? Not going to go down well with an entirely female student body.

  2. Lalaroo

    Can I just say, I don’t even think we can assume he’s only going to kiss her. Look at how he’s leering at her – what a creepy look to give to a young kid! It’s offensive on so many levels – for what it says to women, for what it says to boys, for what it says about men’s responsibility. Ugh.

  3. Aaron

    Sick and horrific? Yes. But I do have to defend it a little against the zealots — it IS mitigated by the assumption that he won’t do anything other than kiss her. It’s the whole point of the ad. He’s exchanging a Pepsi for a lifeguard’s uniform. With the uniform, he can perform mouth-to-mouth without getting slapped the moment she’s conscious. There’s a huge jump from that to “he’s exchanging the Pepsi for a uniform so he can rape her”. If that was really the intention, the uniform wouldn’t be part of the ad. The uniform means he could get away with a kiss — nothing more.

    Okay, now that I’ve got that out of the way: the ad is still sick, and the message behind it is still one of getting away with a form of molestation. Someone at Pepsi should be out of a job.

  4. Cara Post author

    Aaron, kissing a woman who is unconscious is sexual assault. It’s not “getting away” with anything — it’s a violation of another person’s body and autonomy.

    And the promotion of sexual assault that falls short of rape is still classified under the heading of “rape culture.”

  5. Cara Post author

    In other words, I never said that the kid is going to rape the woman. I said that he is planning to sexually assault her, and that the adult man is promoting and condoning that sexual assault. And therefore so is Pepsi.

  6. Aaron

    Sorry, Cara, I could have chosen my words a little better. I completely agree with you — I was specifically response to the phrases “nor is it mitigated by the assumption that he won’t do anything other than kiss her” and “I don’t even think we can assume he’s only going to kiss her” (in the comments). Those are the comments I specifically disagree with, though I doesn’t make the ad better. Yes, it is a definite play into rape culture, even if he doesn’t plan on raping her.

  7. Steve

    Hunh. My comment vanished.

    Why assume that the kid is going to do anything at all? The most innocent interpretation is that when she wakes up he’ll get to play the hero. Then maybe she’ll want to kiss him.

    Furthermore, since when is an unwanted kiss FROM A CHILD defined as “sexual assault”?

  8. Cara Post author

    Steve, no one honestly believes that. We can see how he’s looking at her, we can see that she’s super hot, we can see that she’s still unconscious and when you’re pulled from the water unconscious you don’t just wake up on your own and look admirably up at your “hero.” You need medical attention — like mouth to mouth resuscitation, which is clearly what the ad is playing at.

    And you’re being extremely misleading by calling this kid a “child.” He’s not five. He’s pubescent, he’s sexualizing the woman, and he’s looking to sexually access her body without her consent.

  9. Steve

    No one honestly believes that a life guard is going to behave that way either. When you’re pulled from the water unconscious, life guards don’t just stand around.

    Funny, it turns out that advertising isn’t necessarily realistic. Frankly, when I first saw the ad, I did think he was trying to play the hero. No one who has ever had to give mouth to mouth would think it sexual in the slightest.

    Basically, calling this “rape” fails the common sense test. But the ad is twisted funny.

  10. Cara Post author

    Steve, again, I didn’t call this rape. Please stop putting words into my mouth. Also, you are not allowed to call rape apologism “funny” on my blog, so goodbye.

    Dear Reedit visitors: I’m thrilled to have you. But please read the comment policy prior to commenting. If your comment does not follow the rules, it will not be approved.

  11. Cara Post author

    Okay Richard, would you prefer to call it “sexual assault apologism”? Just like I feel that promoting non-rape sexual assault falls under the heading of “rape culture,” I feel like apologizing for non-rape sexual assault also falls under the more general heading of “rape apologism.” Technically, it should be “sexual violence apologism,” but that’s unwieldy and simply not the generally accepted phrase.

  12. victoria

    Steve, et al,
    This is about CONSENT. An unconscious person cannot grant consent. A kiss, a touch, an action of a sexual nature without consent is Sexual Assault. Sexual assault is a BAD THING. It is not funny, it is not something to be taken lightly, whatever context it is presented in.

    Also, look at what this is saying about the worth of a woman: roughly equivalant to a can of soda??? Again, hard to find the humor.

  13. Blitzgal

    I think it’s also important to re-iterate the fact that this is the only one of the three ads that even has a woman in it. And she’s unconscious. And she’s being traded as part of the “lifeguard experience” for a can of soda. That’s just all kinds of disgusting. We can argue semantics regarding rape vs assault all day. But this ad is just gross.

  14. Blitzgal

    Sorry for posting again so quickly but I’m noticing more and more photo ads featuring dead, dying, or unconscious women and frankly it’s distressing. Wasn’t there a recent series of ads for a brand of jeans that showed women lying in mucky water and dirt, apparently having been killed and dumped there?

  15. Richard

    Cara, I was referring to you response to Steve. You said that you were booting him because he found rape apologism funny, and in the same comment you said that what was depicted wasn’t rape.

    It’s your board, kick people off for whatever reason you like. Just don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth while doing it.

    Victoria, I don’t think the ad says that a woman is worth a can of soda (or are you implying that the kid is going to kidnap her now that she’s unconcious), just that the chance to be slapped by a beautiful women is worth a can of soda to a dumb kid.

  16. Cara Post author

    And that’s what I was referring to as well, Richard.

    And no, we’re not discussing the worth of the woman to the kid, but to the adult man. If someone was dumb enough to take it, I’d trade a can of soda for a house — that doesn’t make the house worthless. What matters is how the person who accepts that can of soda for the house feels about it. The willingness to turn the other way while a woman who needs medical attention is sexually assaulted is worth a can of soda to the man. Notice that this comparison is only apt because the woman is being treated as a piece of property to be bartered in this ad — while the other ads feature actual property.

    Oh, and for those like Steve who want to argue that Pepsi was not implying any sexual contact in this ad? Try again because the ad is called “French Kiss.”

  17. newslang

    Richard, seriously, do some reading and try to educate yourself about all of this on your own. Remember:

    *It is not the job of the oppressed to educate the oppressor.*

    I applaud Cara’s patience in repeatedly explaining things to you, but if you’re genuinely curious [and not just attempting to nullify what is being said by playing the role of the confused but caring troll] then doing some reading shouldn’t be too much of a task. I’d recommend lots of Cara’s other posts, but she also has plenty of links to other great blogs too.

    Once you’ve done some research, the terms will make more sense and hopefully you’ll begin to understand the every day life and world of someone who doesn’t get to enjoy the benefits of male privilege.

  18. Kate

    I wrote and complained, then forwarded it to my friends and family so that they can too.

    In response to all these comments, no, the kid probably is not going to actually rape her. But he IS going to violate her when she’s unconscious– kissing, touching, etc. And the lifeguard apparently thinks that letting some kid feel up a passed out women is more important than making sure she’s not, you know, DYING or anything. Because men’s sexual appetites are more important than our lives? Is that what you’re trying to say, Pepsi? Fucking advertisements.

  19. John

    I think there is an important factor thats being left out of this discussion. Take the pepsi and the boy out of the picture and think of this as just an attractive male lifeguard and an attractive female swimmer who is in need of mouth to mouth. Now while of course the lifeguards sole purpose is to give CPR and mouth to mouth to this individual, does anyone here disagree with the fact that he may be also receiving some sort of sexual gratification solely from the physical contact? (note this easily could be the same thing if the genders were switched, woman are not above wanting to put there lips on the lips of a person there attracted too.) and both those instances are perfectly normal for humans. Now back to the ad, would you all be objecting to this if it was a video ad, and the boy was say CPR trained, and he actually did give her life saving mouth to mouth. As far as that boy is concerned (looking at his age) hes probably gonna masturbate to the fact he gave mouth to mouth to some girl for months to come but he still would have saved her life. Yet, to kind of counter my own argument (which is rather stupid i admit) it does imply in a way that the boy doesn’t know mouth to mouth (in the same way to monkey obviously is not going to deliver the bananas in the other ad, and he obviously cant drive a truck.) So in a way I agree with you, but I would also stress that being feminist involves feminine equality so I hope you make your points based on the idea of sexual assault on anyone not specifically sexual assault on a women. Men have boundaries too, (Imagine the same add but with a young attractive passed out boy, and female lifeguard receiving a pepsi from a much older creepy cat lady type person looking at the unconscious boy lustfully.)

  20. SunlessNick

    It’s your board, kick people off for whatever reason you like. Just don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth while doing it.

    One, Cara didn’t call the ad rape. She called it an element of rape culture – a background attitude that women’s bodies and identities should be available to men whenever the men want – it fuels rape, but it’s found in many more places than that. Including adverts where a woman is treated as something to be traded between a man and boy.

    Two, Steve said this: No one who has ever had to give mouth to mouth would think it sexual in the slightest. But Cara’s point is that the ad sexualises the situation via the leer on the boy’s face – the viewer of the as is invited to make the comparison between mouth to mouth and kissing an unconscious woman.

    Three, kissing an unconscious woman is sexual assault – thus the ad is inviting you to contemplate sexual assault, while offering an excuse for it to “not count.” Steve calls that funny, so Cara gives him the boot.

    That’s not both sides of her mouth.

  21. Cara Post author

    John, first of all the one thing that Steve said that I agree with is that giving mouth to mouth is decidedly not sexual, and one who does derive sexual satisfaction from it probably shouldn’t be a lifeguard. Just like one who derives sexual arousal/satisfaction from giving a pap smear should not be a gynecologist.

    And yes, that applies to both men and women. I am in fact a very strong believer that sexual assault or rape of a man is just as wrong as that committed against a woman, and your alternatively described ad would also be very disturbing.

  22. John

    Cara I don’t think that it really is possible to take away all forms of sexuality out of things just because it seems like its supposed to have none. Now I agree that a lifeguard should be giving mouth to mouth, NOT french kissing her, but I’ve had to give mouth to mouth before, and it was a small boy who I worked with, and there was no sexual anything, but I can’t imagine having a huge crush on some girl who suddenly needed mouth to mouth and me either A: Doing it and not for any moment have the fact that my lips are touching the lips of a girl I find extremely attractive or just the fact that our faces are so close wouldn’t do something to the chemical structure of my brain in some sort of sexual way, or B: I choose not to give her mouth to mouth over fear of me thinking about it too sexually.
    I’m really enjoying this discussion BTW, sorry if I’m coming of negatively at all.

  23. James

    This seems to be a French ad, created by a French advertising agency (and presumably approved by Pepsi executives at some level).

    Does it seem likely that this ad could have run here in the U.S.? That a U.S. advertising agency would have come up with it? I’d like to think that U.S. culture is beyond this, and that this ad can be chalked up to traditional French attitudes, but I don’t know.

  24. newslang

    John – SunlessNick was in no way implying that kissing a man wouldn’t be sexual assault. Sunless Nick was merely talking about the ad in question, where a WOMAN is being sexually assaulted. John, this is something that gets very old, whenever discussions about women being raped or assaulted are happening, there is inevitably a man that comes in to cry “but what about the menz?!” We are all very aware that men can be victims too, but in this instance and in a large majority of cases, it’s women who are the victims.

    And in regards to your first comment – why in the world is it necessary to come up with these elaborate and hypothetical situations? What if the boy had cpr training? What if the lifeguard had a cold and just didn’t want to give her germs? you can go on and on to try to rationalize this ad into something other than what it actually is – a blatant promotion for sexual assault.

    And I’m gald you’re enjoying the discussion, people who are genuinely interested are always welcome. But please remember that this is something that can be very personal for the people that it could (or already has) actually affect in reality. It is very easy for a woman to imagine herself in the place of that woman, vulnerable and unconscious and being taken advantage of by men. This is because the rape and sexual assault of women are things easily written off and embraced by our (rape) culture.

    The fact that Pepsi was willing to put this into their ad is very telling of their opinion of the sexual assaults that happen to women *and men* everyday. So while this discussion may be fun for you, it’s really serious and greatly affects many of us at a personal level. Remember that – think about the women in your life that you care about and realize that this is the world they live in, one where advertising sexual assault, a thing that could very well happen to them, is defended and attempts are made to then rationalize it down to something ok and harmless. It is not ok and it is not harmless. This type of advertising works to make the sexual assault and rape of women and men into something everyday and commonplace instead of the violent atrocity that it actually is.

  25. SunlessNick

    We are all very aware that men can be victims too, but in this instance and in a large majority of cases, it’s women who are the victims.

    And it is specifically women whom ads like this so casually commodify. Case in point:

    Imagine the same add but with a young attractive passed out boy, and female lifeguard receiving a pepsi from a much older creepy cat lady type person looking at the unconscious boy lustfully.

    I’d *have* to imagine this version. Whereas I see versions with objectified women every day.

  26. Cara Post author

    Does it seem likely that this ad could have run here in the U.S.?

    Yes, I assumed that it was an American ad until I learned otherwise. I’ve recently seen Michum Man ads that promoted distributing pornographic images of women without their consent, so . . .

  27. Sadvocate

    At first I thought you were being oversensitive, since I initially saw the ad as trading a pepsi for the privilege of rescuing an attractive woman, but the leer on the boy’s face and the posturing of his feet (one foot between her legs) goes beyond the idea of an open mouthed kiss/resuscitation. The positions of the actors are not accidental.

  28. SunlessNick

    And in any case, what if we do we accept the ad in terms of a CPR scenario? That means we have to view the woman as a drowning victim in need of immediate assistance – which the lifeguard has a responsibility to provide, though he has traded that responsibility away for a Pepsi. That means in turn that a woman’s life (we’re looking at it in CPR terms, remember, so she’s dying) is worth less than a Pepsi.

    Pepsi: the drink of negligent homicide.

  29. Shane

    I would agree, after looking at the larger version of the picture on the originating site, that the boy’s grin is pretty creepy, and in fact verges on unrealistic looking to me. It almost seems as if perhaps the grin might have been photoshopped later.

  30. Cooper

    I am not sure how much control Pepsi USA has over Pepsico. The CEO of Pepsico is a women,Indra Nooyi. One of the directors of Pepsico is trustee of Carnegie Mellon University, the Global Fund for Women, and the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women & Children. Dina Dublon.

    It’s a fairly new ad campaign. I’m not sure we should be any less concerned about it because it is not U.S. based.

    With violence against women being a world wide crisis this is pretty disgusting no matter where it originated.

    It is a very small world these days.

  31. Pingback: ummm I’m pretty sure this is rape. « What a crazy random happenstance

  32. Dee

    This ad has nothing to do with innocence. Nor does it have anything to do with trading a can for playing a hero.

    Note the position of the people. The Lifeguard has his head turned away from the scene and is giving up his shirt; he is giving up his responsiblities to the situation. He is no longer going to be protecting ‘life’. The teenager is leering at the girl as he is handing over the can, he isn’t even paying attention to the Lifeguard.

    Add this to the woman, who is lying, scantly clad and unconcious in a spread eagle position.

    Hell, even the vehicle is turned away, perhaps ready for a quick get away.

    There is nothing innocent here, nothing that can be read that way. I find it telling that people can see something innocent in such a situation and it speaks to the way we have been conditioned to read these situations. Conditioned to the price of ‘life’. The Price of Women.

  33. Jack

    Yes, the ad is juvenile, misogynistic, and just dumb.

    But, I don’t exactly look to corporations and businesses to set a good example for others to follow.

    Honestly, it’s this sort of trivial BS that leads to winning the battle but not the War. Let’s try to focus on more pressing issues, like war rape and female to male literacy gaps instead of responding to what some ad committee thinks will push more cans of sugar water.

  34. Ashley

    Jack, if you don’t think that it is important to work on this particular issue, fine. You can spend all your time, energy, and money on rape in the Congo. However, unless you are working full-time on anti-rape activism, ya don’t really have a leg to stand on advising the ladies where to put their energy. (and FYI, Cara has addressed many, many issues on this blog, including the ones you mention.)

    The culture that makes rape happen is created little by little, not all at once. That is the way any terrible human rights abuse happens. It isn’t possible to tackle the problem of rape, or any other human rights abuse, all at once. You have to start where the culture is… Which is in a dark dark place that finds this ad funny. It is precisely by pretending that the many smaller pieces that add up to the larger culture “don’t matter” that we end up with massive problems like widespread rape as a war crime.

  35. Delta

    As a photographer, I can assure you the add is sinister. In addition to the things previously mentioned (primarily the leer), please note: (and NONE OF THIS is accidental, this is the art of photography!)

    *The trails from the ladies feet, indicating that she was dragged, not carried, suggesting fetishized violence
    *The way the boy’s hand is reaching out, fingers outstretched, is creepy, possessive, and looks “gropey.”
    *Notice the shadow of the boy’s hand. That kind of shadow furthers the “creepy” element and suggests old horror flicks. It is no accident that it falls on the lifeguard shirt.
    *The boys full shadow falls right on the woman’s crotch
    *The line of sight that draws from the boy’s hand to the shadow hand leads to the woman’s crotch
    *The shadow hand reaches out horizontally from the boy’s crotch

    The man looking elsewhere, as someone stated, not only shows his disinterest in the woman’s welfare, but suggests he’s looking out to make sure no one knows it’s going on. The passing off of the shirt signifies the passing off of the woman. That it’s a little boy is extra creepy. He is being indoctrinated into rape culture. Even a boy child has more power than an adult woman.

  36. Anon

    As someone who has been raped, and groped multiple times when I was unconscious or mistaken to be (and by people I thought were good, thoughtful men and good friends) I resent your trivializing an issue like this. This kind of acceptance is exactly the kind of thing that hurts women and leads more men to take advantage of a “convenient situation,” and to trivialize the harm of it. Moreover, this kind of cultural acceptance… which gives men a good chuckle at violence against women, while women are being othered- is extremely painful. This is a huge part of rape culture and the pain rape victims go through.

  37. Dee

    Jack, how do you think rape culture begins? How do you think attitudes and beliefs are formed in the population?

    You may not find this significant, that in itself is significant. It’s also indicative of a culture that has been steadily becoming morally bankrupt as well as educationally and intellectually impoverished.

    People don’t like to think anymore and they don’t like to act that’s why we live in the world we do. People, society has to stop being complicit and start fighting these ‘battles’, because you can’t win a war if you aren’t even on the battle field.

  38. SunlessNick

    Oh, one more thing. SunlessNick, you friggin’ rock.

    It’s very nice of you to say that, and thankyou, but I actually feel a little awkward at the idea of getting props for anything in this thread.

  39. momentofchoice

    Hi Cara, I found your post at Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing.

    I just sent this link to the people at http://commercialfreechildhood.org/ (an organization run out of Harvard Law) asking about laws/regulations when using children in advertising. Their focus is on protecting children from marketing directed at them but I wonder how anyone can be allowed to use a child to suggest such a disgusting idea in order to sell a product. Unbelievable.

    How/where did you first come across this campaign? Just curious where it is running (I realize it was created in France).

  40. Sara B

    The people who are defending this ad really seem to have put a lot of thought into why it isn’t implying sexual violation. My guess is this reflects on how they approach sex in life- pushing and negotiating the limits of what they can “get away with,” rather than viewing all forms and degrees of sexual contact as something to be mutually shared between consenting parties. Period. Yes, whatever this boy intends to do to this woman is anyone’s guess, but it is precisely the fact that it is open to interpretation that makes this sort of advertising such a slippery slope. The fact that this ad was approved without any consideration for how it would affect women is offensive enough. But in case you don’t think advertisers will “go there” take a look at this Dolce and Gabbana ad: http://loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org/offensiveads.html

  41. Pingback: A Response From Pepsi : The Curvature

  42. dewey

    In addition to everything else offensive in the photograph and comments, I’m also offended that someone implied that the French are somehow MORE BACKWARD than us about… well, anything. Which country has millions of people participating in sects in which women are not allowed to cut their hair, wear pants or short sleeves, work outside the home, etc? I can’t even imagine a fundy French person, nor can I imagine a French person understanding the concept that this woman in the photograph would have to pay for her the ambulance she’s about to need.

  43. Wilma

    I think the woman is worth less than a can of soda to the lifeguard because he’s gay. 😛

    Ugh, could they have given that poor kid any more of a disgusting look on his face?!

  44. Pingback: I Read the Internets–10/25/08 | the Hathor Legacy

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