PepsiCo has pulled a video ad from its online channels and apologized to consumers after the ad was criticized as portraying racial stereotypes and violence against women.
The video, created by African-American rapper Tyler, The Creator, showed a badly injured woman on crutches being asked to pick her assailant out of a lineup of black men (played by members of the hip-hop collective led by Tyler, Odd Future) and a goat, as a cop urges her first to ID “the one with the doo-rag” and then “the one with four legs.”
The goat, voiced by Tyler, repeatedly threatens the woman during the lineup (“It’s me…you shoulda gave me some more…I’m nasty…You betta not snitch on a playa…When I get outta here, I’m gonna do ya.”) The woman bolts from the room screaming “I can’t do this…no, no, no,” whereupon the cop says: “She’s just gotta do it.” The spot closes with an image of the goat’s head with the words “DEW it,” and a voiceover of the “goat” saying: “You’re never gonna catch me.”
The video was the third in a series created by Tyler for Mountain Dew, all focused on the goat (dubbed “Felicia”) encountering trouble with the law in its quest to get more Mountain Dew. The first installment showed the goat attacking the woman – a waitress trying to serve him some of the soda – because he wants the whole bottle (and more). The second showed the goat being pulled over while driving by an (African-American) cop, who discovers the trunk of the goat’s car is filled with empty plastic bottles of Mountain Dew. (Cop: “Looks like we have ourselves a clear-cut case of Dew U I.”) These spots also ended with the goat declaring, “You’re never gonna catch me.”
The controversy over the third spot reportedly originated at least in part from a post published on the blog of Boyce Watkins, a Syracuse University professor of finance, author and founder of the Your Black World Coalition, in which he called the spot “arguably the most racist commercial in history.”
“Mountain Dew has set a new low for corporate racism,” Watkins wrote. “Their decision to lean on well-known racial stereotypes is beyond disgusting. This doesn’t even include the fact that the company has put black men on par with animals. The holocaust of mass incarceration and the glorification of violent prison culture has taken a tremendous toll on the black community. Corporations are making it cool for black men to murder one another, while gun manufacturers ensure that the streets are flooded with the weapons necessary for us to complete our own genocide…Even worse is that Mountain Dew probably thinks this ad is acceptable because they got the OK from a black man. In their thorough corporate oversight, Mountain Dew may not have realized that Tyler the Creator is also the man who made a song called “Tron Cat,” with a verse stating that he would “r@pe a pregnant b*tch and tell my friends I had a threesome.” As a business school professor myself, I am stunned that Mountain Dew would allow their brand to be connected to a man who celebrates the sexual assaults of pregnant women.”
Watkins also pointed out that Mountain Dew was already the subject of a boycott effort by the family of Emmett Till – the African-American teenager tortured and murdered in Mississippi in 1955 by two white men who were acquitted but subsequently admitted their guilt – because of the soda brand’s endorsement deal with rapper Lil Wayne. A lyric by Wayne in Future’s “Karate Chop” remix made a vulgar comparison of Till’s death with a sex act, according to The Huffington Post, which reported in mid-February that after Till’s family objected, Wayne and Epic Records agreed to try to pull the song (said to have been leaked) off of the Internet.
Watkins’s original post about Tyler’s third Mountain Dew “goat” spot has been updated to state:“Less than 24 hours after this article was released, one of our readers, Paul Porter, made a call to the executives at Mountain Dew and had the ad removed. Way to go, Paul. But the Emmett Till family, in conjunction with a very broad coalition, including the group that ended Rick Ross’ deal with Reebok, is still asking Mountain Dew to end its sponsorship of Lil Wayne, who has refused to apologize for comparing Emmett Till’s face to a woman’s v*gina.”
Yesterday, PepsiCo responded to the goat-spot controversy with an updated statement: “We apologize for this video and take full responsibility. We have removed it from all Mountain Dew channels and Tyler is removing it from his channels as well.”
Tyler’s management posted a response stating that it was never Tyler’s intention to offend anyone and adding (in part), “…however offense is personal and valid to anyone who is offended. Out of respect to those that were offended the ad was taken down. For those who know and respect Tyler he is known for pushing boundaries and challenging stereotypes thru humor. This is someone who grew up on David Chappelle. This situation is layered with context and is a discussion that Tyler would love to address in the right forum as he does have a point of view…”
Regarding the Tyler spot controversy, Laura Ries, president of the Ries & Ries branding and marketing consultancy, noted to HuffPo that companies that want the "street cred" of a celebrity may end up losing control of the message they want to convey.