‘King of Pop’ is Dead But Still Pitching Pepsi

Discussion
May 04, 2012

There was a strangeness to Michael Jackson’s life and now, it seems, things are remaining that way after his death. PepsiCo in conjunction with Sony Music and Mr. Jackson’s estate is rolling out a marketing campaign to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Bad album.

Pepsi plans to manufacture one billion cans of its cola with Mr. Jackson’s silhouette on each. The entertainer, as many know, had a long association with the beverage and snack maker.

"Pepsi has always been at the forefront of pop culture, helping to shape the music landscape," said Brad Jakeman, president, global enjoyment brands, and chief creative officer, PepsiCo Global Beverages Group, in a press release. "This unique global partnership, around such a legendary music milestone, invites Pepsi fans from around the world to experience Michael Jackson’s music in an engaging and very now kind of way — it’s a model example of how Pepsi’s ‘Live for Now’ campaign can manifest itself in a way that resonates the world over."

The campaign is certainly not the first to use a departed celebrity to sell products. Many others have made use of images, movie scenes and musical recordings to hawk all types of merchandise. Retailers know first hand how the death of a celebrity can bring with it increased sales, the most recent notable case being Whitney Houston.

An Entertainment Weekly article questioned how far the use of dead celebrities would go in brand marketing. "Considering the widespread appeal of both Jackson’s oeuvre and the Pepsi brand, the partnership is suitable, but given the potentially distasteful trend of raising the dead via holograms, something tells me that we’ll soon see much more than just MJ’s silhouette popping up."

While undoubtedly loved by millions, others associate a creepiness factor with Mr. Jackson who was embroiled in various controversies, including the use of drugs and charges of inappropriate contact with minors.

"People today remember the young Jackson," Laura Ries, of Ries & Ries, told USA Today. "A dead Michael Jackson is effective; a live Michael Jackson would not have been because of all the negativity."

Discussion Questions: What do you think of the use of dead celebrities in brand marketing campaigns? Will Michael Jackson help retailers sell more Pepsi?

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21 Comments on "‘King of Pop’ is Dead But Still Pitching Pepsi"

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Liz Crawford
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Maybe there needs to be a new term for this — “The Tribute Effect.” Michael Jackson’s icon is still casting a glow onto the brand. But the tribute effect means that the messiness of a living human being (potential sex scandals, unsavory remarks, etc) doesn’t come into play. His image is a known quantity because it is static now. It’s like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean. These are American Icons and they have come to symbolize a type of “cool.” Same goes for Jackson. He helped to define an era. His style and talent are what remains…and that is what brands are interested in.

Max Goldberg
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

When brands align with a dead celebrity, they know exactly what they are getting. With live celebrities, they can’t be sure.

Joe Nassour
Guest
Joe Nassour
5 years 7 months ago

This is a way to get attention for the brand. Most people will not be tricked into buying Pepsi because Micheal Jackson drinks it, after all he is no longer with us.

It is about the brand image and the coolness of the technology used, and how it is used that will either promote or detract from the brand.

It’s in the execution.

Ken Lonyai
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Very very few people are going to put down a non-nutritious soft drink they like because some printing on the can is creepy. Alternatively, a number of people that won’t amount to a speck on PepsiCo’s balance sheet might buy some extra collector cans.

The Jackson family/estate has no problem making money from their dead relative or they would have said no to Pepsi.

If Pepsi thinks there’s tangible value in it, good for them.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
5 years 7 months ago

Uniquely-talented men frequently endure for marketing reasons. Their going hence, even as in their coming hither, potentially produces a golden hue.

Michael Jackson will become the productive “Rock Pop of Pepsi.” That is unless Coca Cola doesn’t dig up Elvis to get Michael and Pepsi “all shook up.”

Upon reflection, I doubt if there is that magic in using Michael to sell more Pepsi … but, caution dear followers, I still like less Pepsi-cated music.

Warren Thayer
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

I agree with the thread of comments thus far. So do Elvis, Marilyn, Steve McQueen, Bob Marley….

Mel Kleiman
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Sell more Pepsi directly? Most likely not. Increase brand awareness? Yes.

From the picture, the can looks great and has lots of eye appeal.

Zel Bianco
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Did anyone expect anything different? If it moves the needle in sales, then we should expect more of these from Pepsi and the Jackson Estate.

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
5 years 7 months ago

In a word, strikes me as: Creepy. As a collectors item it makes sense. For the brand to give away their iconic graphics for a short period of time, why not? When your brand is struggling and Diet Coke beats you out, let alone Coke — then go back to the past and leverage Mr. Jackson’s appeal. Overseas, it especially makes sense. As a loyal Coke user and yet a fan of The King of Pop (how quaint) it won’t affect my decision on what to buy next time I’m at the grocery.

Roger Saunders
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Michael Jackson’s long association with Pepsi Cola, and the Cola giant’s association with the music scene makes this an easy decision. The cans will move product. And, perhaps it will lead to a some added “collectors’ item cans” of other pop culture musicians from Pepsi.

Matt Schmitt
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

The use of dead celebrities will probably pick up even more steam. Using likeness in packaging and merchandising promotions is one thing, but the advances in technology surface many new ways to leverage the celebrity “presence.” Take the recent Coachella Festival concert performance by a Tupac Shakur hologram. If celebrities start pre-licensing aggressively their image and performance rights, then we’ll probably see many new tactics and usage in marketing.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

I’m not sure anything to do with Michael Jackson can be generalized. Alive or dead, he was one of a kind. Given that Pepsi and Jackson have been associated for a long time, I see this as more of a nostalgia play, evoking ’80s memories.

Frank Riso
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

We use our two most famous presidents to sell merchandise and even named a day for them. We use Christopher Columbus to sell merchandise and we have used St. Valentine’s day to sell merchandise. I am okay with it, but do I get another day off for Michael Jackson day?

Gordon Arnold
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Michael Jackson’s most loyal fans supported him all through his turmoil in very large numbers and they, like the Elvis and John Wayne fans, will continue to do so for some time to come. This type of fan does not listen to the press information about their idol’s private life issues; they instead listen for entertainment news. Pepsi spent a lot of money to support MJ during his presence in his own career. Although he has left us, an active fan base keeps his career alive and well. This campaign will be considered a continuing support by MJ’s fan base and will be a reasonable success for Pepsi.

Lee Peterson
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Brand as a person = good idea.

Brand as a dead person = better idea (Sam Walton, Dave Thomas, Steve Jobs, Ray Kroc, Mozart, Jimmy Dean, George Washington, Bob Evans, Macy’s, etc, etc.)

Verlin Youd
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Smart move on Pepsi’s part! The association with Michael Jackson had a significant impact on their success in the late ’80s and early ’90s. As others have said, they can now deal with a “known entity,” as well as focus on the positives of that person’s life. Seems like a good way to drive benefit from not only a new audience, but also the nostalgia of the past.

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
5 years 7 months ago

I see a lot of comments comparing the use of Jackson’s image to that of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, James Dean and even Columbus and St. Valentine. Some of these people had their own scandals, but none the magnitude of Jackson’s (especially as they pertain to children). Pepsi may expect an increase in sales, but they should also brace themselves for the opposite. This would not entice me, or any parent I know, to buy Pepsi for my family. But I guess there are some people out there who might still think Michael Jackson is cool. Not me.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
5 years 7 months ago

Michael Jackson’s hair was famously set on fire during filming of a Pepsi commercial. Now consumers are asked to purchase MJ Pepsi cans as if their hair were — well, you know the rest. Some things come full circle.

When I was Ad Mgr. for 2,000 7-Eleven stores back in the 80s, we constantly sought and tested innovative (and sometimes weird) marketing ideas. You remember the “collector cups” we used for Big Gulps and Slurpees during that time, right? We came within a hairsbreadth of testing a series of collector cups featuring dead rock stars. True story! Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, et al. I’m glad we didn’t do it, and wish Pepsi would throttle back on this promotion as well.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
5 years 7 months ago

This is a very simple issue. Pepsi, like any brand, has certain brand “codes” that should be protected and utilized in marketing to constantly remind existing and potential consumers of the DNA of the brand. The only question is whether MJ aligns with and even strengthens the brand codes Pepsi wishes to emphasize. My opinion is that he clearly does and that this will be a brilliant campaign.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

I think it has little purpose and will have only interest to those true fans of Jackson. It will have no long-term effect on selling more Pepsi. In fact, it may sell less Pepsi to those that are offended.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Jackson dead is safer than Jackson alive. His weird past is evaporating and the music remains. It’s a natural evolution.

If the Jackson brand is marketable, then let Pepsi leverage it. And the Jackson family ought to profit from it. That’s entertainment….

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