Flashback Friday: The Pepsi Generation

I should place this disclaimer right at the top of this week’s flashback: I don’t really like any plain cola anymore. Coke is too fizzy and Pepsi is too syrupy. Really, the only thing either is good for is as a partner for rum or vodka. Actually, though, I kind of prefer my rum with Dr. Pepper and my vodka with ice.

Even though I might not like either cola now, I can tell you that there was definitely one clear winner in my mind back in the day. Wanting to buy the world a Coke aside, I’d have to say that Pepsi was the one that owned the advertising crown during my misspent youth.

After all, they were the ones who succeeded in convincing us that Pepsi was “the choice of a new generation.”

Talk about a brilliant marketing ploy there. Take a campaign from the 60s (that was when “The Pepsi Generation” was first introduced as a concept), snazz it up a little bit, and proceed to convince an entire generation of impressionable kids and teens that theirs is a generation that belongs to one particular brand name? Nice.

And how do you accomplish this? Through a series of commercials that feature such hot-at-the-moment stars like Marty McFly and the Bedazzled Glove himself, Michael Jackson.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFEQ7aH7JDQ&w=640&h=480]

Fox advertised for regular Pepsi for a while before the company switched him over to their more “adult” Diet Pepsi campaign, pairing him with the likes of a pre-NYPD Blue Gail O’Grady…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grP6QeIjVjU&w=640&h=480]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0Hkqh1IAsQ&w=640&h=480]

Recognize the little MJ in the second commercial in this collection? That would be Carlton Banks himself, Alfonso Ribeiro. Of course, not long after this video was made, he would get his first big break as Ricky Schroder’s token friend of color on the otherwise decidedly Caucasian sitcom Silver Spoons.

Pepsi relied heavily on Michael Jackson’s powerful persuasive presence in their marketing campaigns throughout most of the 80s and early 90s. But things started getting a little awkward toward the end of their relationship…what with Jackson incurring ever more negative scrutiny for his strange behavior. So Pepsi decided that it might be time to find a replacement spokesperson, just in case Jackson’s personal peccadilloes proved to be more harmful to their advertising relationship than Pepsi nearly immolating Jackson during one of their earliest commercial shoots.

So who would they turn to as a less controversial performer? Why, Madonna, of course! That’s right, Pepsi tried to tame Madonna and make her palatable to play in Peoria. They made a deal with her that would allow them to debut her song “Like A Prayer” for the first time on television through a 2-minute commercial that was pretty much Pepsi’s attempt to duplicate the marketing success they’d had at the beginning of their contract with Jackson. I swear, there are a couple of sets from the Madonna commercial that look like they were recycled from previous MJ shoots.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8qtsUaoVak&w=640&h=480]

But then Madonna had to ruin it all when she stripped down to her slip and jiggled about on a hillside lined with burning crosses right before dry-humping a Black Jesus on a church pew. The pope got his papal panties in a bunch, religious groups threatened to boycott Pepsi, and the company panicked and revoked their contract with the Material Girl because she was simply too controversial. So they went back to MJ. Yeah, because there was a controversy-free singer.

Don’t cry for Madonna, though. She got to keep the $5 million that Pepsi paid her for her contract. Not a bad price, if you think about it, for such high-profile global publicity.

No such thing as bad publicity, right? Right.

I know that Pepsi still pulls in big names for their marketing campaigns. I just don’t know who any of those names are anymore. Coke still tries as well, I guess. They’ve got those big fluffly polar bears…because, you know, when I think fizzy-up-my-nose cloying sweet cola, I immediately think polar bears.

Actually, now that I think about it, I do immediately think of polar bears. Whatdya know…advertising does work after all.