Reading time: 8 minutes.
First let’s define: “good”.
By good I don’t mean “good by MOMA’s standards”, neither “good by your grandma’s standards”. By good I mean: “effective”.
WE ARE TALKING ABOUT IT
Despite what we usually believe, any given piece of advertising is not created to please or to entertain us.
Any AD campaign’s first goal is always to raise awareness about a product or service. How they do it though is totally of secondary importance.
In this case we can say without a doubt that this AD has hit the spot. For example if you search “New Pepsi commercial” on Google or YouTube there are already hundreds of memes, parodies, videos, articles and so on. Not the kind of media coverage every business dreams about, but still pretty damn good media coverage nonetheless. Another example is that I’m writing about it instead of smoking crack, and you are reading it instead of snorting grinded Xanax. And again: main newspapers are writing about it instead of covering a potentially imminent Korean-American war, while creatives in the design industry are loving to hate it and, most importantly, people are tweeting, FBing and bitching about it all over the social-blogosphere.
The old adage “any publicity is good publicity” in this case is quite fitting.
But let’s put aside these basic, hard-core marketing rules for a second and let’s consider the content of this ad. “Yea m8, what about the content?!”
THE CONTENT IS PERFECT
The content is to us (adults with a decent education) lame, cringy and tacky. Agreed. As this article from The Independent has perfectly nailed it… every scene from this AD is ridiculous.
But what those smartasses at The Independent failed to understand is that this AD wasn’t created for an adult audience.
Don’t get fooled by that well groomed mulatto guy or by Kendall Jenner’s juicy ass. As sexualised and “apparently mature” as this AD might seem to be, its audience isn’t in the same age gap of the people acting in it.
As many other campaigns targeting a younger audience, this one contains many “adult archetypes”.
Let me use a completely different example: Batman. Batman is an archetype. He’s super smart, super sexy, super rich, super badass, and so on. When the umpteenth Batman movie comes out though, you don’t write a post on FB about how ridiculous the character is, because you know it’s a comic book hero designed for 8 year old kids. It contains the desirable traits of an alpha male and that’s why it appeals to the simple mind of an 8 year old looking for a winning figure to imitate, as he’s genetically programmed to do.
Now, Pepsi marketing people are smart. Despite what you might think about those in-house corporate designers, they know their job all too well. Let me put it this way: you don’t end up working for a colossus like Pepsi and get paid $$$$$$$$ a day, if you are not “very good” (read: effective) at your job.
This AD looks like it’s talking to us (adults) because it contains elements of the adult world (grown up models, sexuality, work, creativity, protesting, policemen and so on) but as you have immediately noticed it’s an extremely uncomplicated adult world: it’s simple, it’s color coordinated, it’s playful and very stereotypical. In a word: it’s SAFE. All treatments that you can find in any given comic book, cartoon or TV show targeting a 5 to 12 year old audience.
It actually looks a lot like something that came out of a 12 years old kid’s brain. Only a kid would dream of playing a cello on a roof top. Only a kid would imagine Kendal Jenner fucking off from a set to join a street riot/parade/block party. Ultimately only a kid would find this “world” desirable.
IT’S PERFECTLY “PEPSI”
Look at this awkward AD from the 80s and you’ll understand what I mean:
OK, now you see that I didn’t drink refrigerator fluid for breakfast and that it’s all starting to make sense. Try for a second to imagine the same new Pepsi commercial, but instead of adult models, imagine 7 to 9 years old kids: aka Pepsi’ audience. Doing the same things. Do you see what I mean?
Back in the 80’s Ads for kids’ products (drinks, snacks, video games and so on) were often starring kids, usually “living” in a mature world. This perfectly 80s AD with Mr Jackson is a great example of this approach.
The kids in this commercial dress like adults, they imitate the street corners hustler and cats and they dance and play in a “glamourously dirty” New York city-ghetto-like, scenario.
The setting therefore it’s something kids from that age and background could relate to: life in a suburban area. At the same time there’s an element of play that wipe out any negative connotation of the city. The dirt and rubbish bags are staged, the cats are funny and playful characters, the sun is shining and cars are not running over the kids dancing in the street. Then all of a sudden Michael Jackson pops out a corner shop and start singing a cringy version of “Billy Jean” with a shamelessly adapted Pepsi lyric. Ladies and Gentlemen: The 80s.
THE NEED FOR SAFETY AND ARCHETYPES
Back in those days Michael Jackson, with all his sparkly, colourful, glam and somewhat tacky dance style was THE HERO. To many 8 year old children he was a VERY cool dude, someone you wanted a poster of in your bedroom. Someone to imitate: an archetype of an alpha male.
I know that when YOU think of an alpha male YOU DON’T think of Michael Jackson. And if you are older than 15 that’s a good sign. But to many young kids with a Sony Walkman, a Game Boy and an oversized plastic skateboard, he was the ultimate badass.
At Pepsi they just played they same trick all over again: they run their numbers, found out their target audience favourite archetypes and simply used them.
It’s no surprise that cool indie musicians and hip-hop dancers are attractive as role models to today’s little boys. Neither is it surprising that to many little girls Kendal Jenner and her Instagram page are the ultimate cool.
None of us (in theory) could relate to those figures, because we probably relate to more grown up role models like Barack Obama, Tony Robbins, Charles Manson or whoever tingles your grown up imagination.
If anything, the “creative-world’s” reaction to this AD only showed everybody its own obsolescence and our inability (or unwillingness) to understand the changes that are going on in our field.
This AD, that to many people should mark the end of the in-house agencies, might well actually be one of its finest moments. Or if you prefer: another step toward new design/advertising industry standards.
Our first reaction to it (creative people’s reaction) is just showing how short sighted most of us are.
Pepsi might even recall the commercial and have to deal with thousands of hate mail, but they got everyone to talk about it. Like it or not, they’ve already won.
We saw it. Kids saw it. Now we can’t unsee it.