Iconic Ads: Pepsi – Michael Jackson

Pepsi wanted to use Michael Jackson – the largest celebrity. Then meticulously craft a situation that acts as a mini-movie with him

Michael Jackson’s managers approached Jay Coleman, founder/CEO of Entertainment Marketing & Communications International, in 1983, one year after the success of the album Thriller, with the concept of pairing Jackson with a big brand at a firm asking price. Coleman pitched the concept to Coca-Cola first.

“They thought about it, but they couldn’t take that leap of faith,” Coleman adds. “Anything they did with Michael was viewed as a more focused, ethnic effort.” After a $1 million offer from Coca-Cola was turned down, the Jacksons went on to PepsiCo.

PepsiCo and its ad agency, BBDO, were likewise hesitant about the $ 5 million price tag.

Since 1960, BBDO has enjoyed a tremendous connection with Pepsi. Pepsi, on the other hand, had lost part of its hold on its own Pepsi generation by the 1980s. It was time to focus on the next generation – their children and grandchildren.

Roger Enrico (the new President of Pepsi-Cola USA) was thinking about this. He was looking for a huge idea to start his brand’s “New Generation” campaign, which was aimed at youth.

The idea was to make Pepsi look young and Coke look old, and Michael Jackson was the generation’s choice—he was already the King of Pop, even if he hadn’t declared it.

Coleman’s suggestion was too attractive to pass up. He described it as a comprehensive marketing strategy with several touchpoints, including advertising, tour sponsorship, logos on cans, supermarket displays, and PR events.

When an ad firm resorts to celebrity advertising, critics argue, it demonstrates that the agency has run out of ideas. BBDO, on the other hand, had a different plan. Use a celebrity, but not just any celebrity; the largest one we could locate, in a meticulously crafted situation that acts as a mini-movie with a beginning, middle, and end.

Alan Pottasch of Pepsi and Phil Dusenberry of BBDO met Michael at his home in Encino, California. Michael, together with his father, Joe, and his attorney, were waiting for them. They were getting together to iron out the last-minute details that come up in any complex production. Michael said in his famous tone, as they fell into a discussion of what they had agreed on: “I just have three points to make. For starters, I’m not a fan of the storyboards. Two, I dislike the song, and three, you are not permitted to show my face.”

After that, there was an awkward silence.

Pottasch and Gene were confident that the song and storyboard problems could be resolved. However, failing to show Michael’s face was a deal-breaker. Michael finally explained himself. “I despise seeing myself on television. Why don’t I just display my glove? Also, my sunglasses and shoes.”

Every sliver of screen time on Michael’s face after that was a big bargaining chip.

Dusenberry was enraged by the request at the time. Finally, Michael agreed to let his face be used for a few moments.

Michael recommended they utilise Billie Jean’s lyrics, altered to make them Pepsi Lyrics. Pottasch and Dusenberry realised they were getting a lot of bang for their buck here!

He had not, however, signed off on the storyboard. So Phil chose to play them out while Michael used his great choreographic imagination to fill in the holes. With incredible patience, he listened and watched. “This is fantastic. It’ll take home every prize under the sun.”

With the music and concepts out of the way, all that was left was the shoot. Easy.

That was quickly disproved on the first day of shooting. Michael would not take off his sunglasses.

Phil remarked, “We’re not filming a Foster Grant commercial. We’re going to turn off the set if he doesn’t lose the sunglasses.”

Michael was adamant. Phil didn’t give up. It went back and forth. Word came back seconds before the deadline that he would remove his glasses.

The following three days went without a hitch.

And, as they say, the rest is history.

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