Iconic Ads: Pepsi – Cindy Crawford (& the Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi spinoffs)


Cindy Crawford in this Pepsi commercial from the 1990s is like a trip down memory lane and helped craft the “supermodel” phenomenon.

Lee Garfinkel remembers how one idea inspired a series for 3 different brands.

The concept of an innocent kid watching a sexy fashion model or actress drink a Pepsi started out as a vehicle for a Pepsi tie-in with Macaulay Culkin and Home Alone 2. The original idea was to have Macaulay spellbound by either Claudia Schiffer or Kim Basinger.

In order to sell the concept to the Culkin family and his agent, I had to act the commercial out, playing the roles of both Macaulay and Claudia Schiffer.

After I presented it, Macaulay’s agent, the world-famous Sam Cohen, stared at me and said, “that was too sexy, you can’t have Macaulay look at such a sexy woman.” I said, “that was just me acting as a sexy model, just to give you an idea of how the commercial could work.” “No, too sexy. We can’t do that commercial.” So I filed the basic idea away and did a different commercial for Macaulay.

A few months later, Don Schneider and I got the assignment to do a Super Bowl commercial for a new redesigned Pepsi and Diet Pepsi bottle and can.

I thought “who cares about a new label design? What can we do to make it fun and create some talk value.”

That’s when I remembered the Macaulay Culkin script. I thought it would actually work better with two real kids watching a model rather than a famous child actor.

The idea evolved into two little boys, somewhat like the kids in the famous Little Rascal movie shorts of the 1930s. In a classic Little Rascals film, the kids are mesmerized by a new sexy teacher and just stare at her with their mouths open. I thought that the Little Rascals performance was kind of timeless and would work for this spot.

Now we needed a great song and a sexy actress or model. The song I used to act out the commercial was “Just One Look”, and I got so used to hearing it in my head that I just knew it had to be that song.

As for the choice of an actress, I wasn’t sure anymore who it should be until I went into a pharmacy with my wife and saw a Cindy Crawford calendar. I asked my wife, “what do you think if we could get Cindy for the Pepsi spot?”

She shook her head, “I don’t think so.”  Which I interpreted as, “She’s too sexy, I don’t want you spending time with her.” I thought that meant she would be perfect.

Pepsi was able to get Cindy and “Just One Look”. And then we hired Joe Pytka to direct. Joe and I had done several Pepsi commercials together and had a fairly good relationship. I’m pretty sure Joe added the Lamborghini to the commercial. I don’t remember if we originally had a limo or a sports car. But it turned out that the Lamborghini driving up was a perfect way to get the kids’ and the viewers’ attention. And then we grab their attention even more as Cindy gets out and walks to the Pepsi machine.

The only slight disagreement I had with Joe was the facial expressions and performance of the boys. I had the Little Rascals in my head. Joe thought it would be corny and that we should play it straighter. We shot it both ways, and I think we got good performances that were real and funny at the same time. A slightly more realistic version of the Little Rascals.

Editing the spot was intense. We really cut that commercial frame by frame because the addition or subtraction of even one frame would make Cindy sexier.

The spot was the #2 spot on the Super Bowl losing #1 to the Nike Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny commercial. It was pretty successful for Pepsi and they hired Cindy several times afterwards. I didn’t like most of the executions because they seemed more cutesy to me.

So here are a few pieces of trivia in relation to the spot.

After we shot Cindy’s part and she left the set, we shot the same exact commercial over again using a European model for the European audience. Not knowing if the spot would be successful, Pepsi originally only hired Cindy for the U.S. market. This European model was very attractive, but on film, she didn’t have the charisma that Cindy had.

In 1993, I left BBDO to become Chief Creative Officer of Lowe and Partners NY. We pitched and won the Diet Coke account with a commercial that we actually produced for the pitch. The commercial was inspired by my planner, who said to me, “I wish we could do something for Diet Coke like your Cindy Crawford spot.”

That was all I needed for inspiration. I thought, what if we switched roles? Instead of kids staring at a model, what if secretaries were staring at a construction worker drinking Diet Coke? We wrote the Diet Coke Break commercial, shot it on a weekend with the famous NY director, Steve Horn, and won the business. That spot became pretty famous too, and nobody ever saw the connection between the two spots.

Then, around 2004, while I was at DDB, we had the opportunity to pitch Diet Pepsi. The client said, “I wish you could do something for Diet Pepsi as you did with that Diet Coke construction worker.”

I laughed and said, “well, you know, that spot was inspired by the Pepsi Cindy Crawford spot.” He looked at me incredulously. He never put it together.

But that inspired my third spot based on the premise called “Guy Watcher.”

I knew that we had to do more than switch roles, we really needed to shake things up. So this spot starts like Diet Coke Break, with women staring at a sexy guy walking down the street drinking a Diet Pepsi. The first twist comes towards the end when we realize that one of the women checking out the guy is none other than Cindy Crawford. Then, just when you think that’s the twist and punch line, we see a blonde checking out the guy. But when the blonde turns around, it’s not a woman, it’s actually Carson Kressley, one of the original hosts of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

So now we’ve broken some new ground by having both a man and a woman check out the guy. The spot was in the Super Bowl and I think it came in at 11th place. At the time, Pepsi was very nervous about having a gay actor staring at another guy drinking a Pepsi, so after the Super Bowl, they kind of let the spot fade away.

Anyway, that’s the Pepsi, Diet Coke, and Diet Pepsi trilogy story.

And I promise to never use that idea again.

Special Thanks to Lee Garfinkel for this contribution

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