“PEPSI WAS TRYING TO PROJECT A GLOBAL MESSAGE OF UNITY, PEACE AND UNDERSTANDING. CLEARLY WE MISSED THE MARK, AND WE APOLOGIZE.”
We all heard the internet roar against the global conglomerate’s attempt to capitalize on social movements, political protest and youth culture to sell sugary drinks. Before publicly apologizing and pulling the ad, Pepsi defended the advert, stating that it “reflects people from different walks of life coming together in the spirit of harmony”. Instead, they succeeded in unifying people from all walks of life to hate on them.
Let’s for a moment ignore the ad’s tone-deafness and cringeworthy product placement to dissect what it was intended to achieve: to send a message of a unified generation during a time when the world is politically splitting at the seams; to capture a quintessentially “Millennial” spirit where identity transcends nationality, ethnicity, gender and politics– powered by social media and clad in double denim.*
Pepsi’s attempt to “join the conversation” of a cross-cultural generation backfired, badly. But I’ll argue that the time is ripe for more brands to celebrate the coming together of different walks of life in ways that fight stereotypical identities.
As a TCK, or “third culture kid”, I’ve always felt this narrative is lacking in popular culture. The term “TCK” refers to people who have been immersed in different cultures and societies during our formative years. Not fully adopting our parents’ birth cultures or the local culture, we assimilate a shared “third culture”, a concept first coined by social scientists Pollock and Useem during the 1950’s:
“The Third Culture Kid frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”
Somewhere in between “immigrant” and “expat”, TCKs are global citizens by birth. We live between cultures. We likely speak several languages and hold several passports. We probably attended international schools, sometimes moving between continents. All of us grew up amongst other TCKs in environments that harmoniously accepted multiculturalism in the hues of a United Colors of Benetton ad. We grow up forever struggling to answer the question “where are your from?”, often gravitating toward global hubs that let us blend in like cultural chameleons.
Obama is the posterchild for TCKs worldwide. Yet, during his presidency, he was both praised and criticized for his unplaceablecultural background and expanded worldview. Any TCK will tell you they recognize a bit of themselves in his heightened sense of cultural empathy; his ability to observe and relate to people from different backgrounds before casting judgement. These are, in fact, among the characteristics used to personify the third culture individual.
Here’s the thing, though: this isn’t as niche as it seems. Our global tribe is ever-growing and ever-normalizing. Those of us who identify as a TCK are just the early adopters or our future globalized existence.
The communities and identities of yesteryear were defined by physical location. Today, we live in a different world. As modern humans, we develop our digital identities alongside our physical, and cultivate our online networks alongside our offline relationships. We live online as we strive to travel abundantly. Needing to have semi-affluent parents who make international life or career choices in order to expose ourselves to other cultures and vantage points is a notion that has dissipated. From YouTubers to the digital nomad movement, young people posses the tools to develop their identities “trans-culturally” themselves. There is a bit of TCK in all of us.
“The role of the physical border is shifting and due for an upgrade,” preaches TV host and internet philosopher Jason Silva (also a TCK) in one of his recent viral online videos. “We need to scale up to release a truly global citizenship”. To desire to become a global citizen, he points out, is only human. In order to do so, we need a new story, a new lens, with which to address the inconsistencies between previous definitions of identity and our modern existence.
As brands mature into their roles as storytellers, they are catching on. In a time where activism sells more than sex does, modern brands understand they must strive to relate to their audiences in ways that are authentic and purposeful. “The world is more beautiful the more you accept”, Airbnb’s Super Bowl ad remarked, an implied criticism of Trump’s travel ban. Budweiser, Coca Cola and 84 Lumber were others to troll Trump with their messages celebrating diversity and acceptance during the famous advertising slot. From Silicon Valley to Hollywood, our generation's cultural tastemakers and innovators have come forward to state that the these creative communities can only exist through being multicultural global villages.
So, it is time to shake off limited perspectives and narrowed viewpoints, and instead explore new shared narratives of global interconnectedness beyond divisions, borders and stereotypes.
To me, at least, this is common sense. Here’s to hoping Kendall Jenner gets the memo.
*Fun fact: the Pepsi ad was filmed on Wireless Road in Bangkok, Thailand, something I would not have clocked had this not been the city where I was born and raised.