Pepsi Brings Back Michael Jackson In Ads

PepsiCo Inc. is going on a reunion tour with The King of Pop.

The Purchase, N.Y.-based company on Thursday is announcing its deal with the estate of Michael Jackson to use the late pop star’s image for its new global marketing push. The nature of the promotion will vary by country, but will include a TV ad, special edition cans bearing Jackson’s image and chances to download remixes of some of Jackson’s most famous songs.

Photo: AP Photo
Heating up Jackson’s 30th Anniversary Celebration concert at NYC’s Madison Square Garden.

Pepsi, which first partnered with Jackson in 1983, did not disclose the terms of its deal with the singer’s estate.

The promotion is part of a global marketing blitz planned for the year ahead by Pepsi, which is looking to revive its brand and win back market share from The Coca-Cola Co. Next week, Pepsi is also launching a TV ad featuring singer Nicki Minaj and announcing details of its partnership with Twitter to stream concerts online.

Brad Jakeman, Pepsi’s chief creative officer, says the broader “Live For Now” campaign was developed over the past 10 months and is intended to amplify the company’s longstanding ties with pop culture.

Pepsi has a lot riding on its new push. Although the company has a diverse portfolio of brands including Frito-Lay, Quaker Oats and Tropicana, it’s often judged by the performance of its namesake cola. And in 2010, Pepsi was knocked out of the No. 2 spot among sodas in the U.S. by Diet Coke, with Coke remaining in the No. 1 position, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest.

Last month, Pepsi also reported that volume in its key Americas beverages unit slipped by 1 percent in the first three months of the year.

The Jackson promotion is one aspect of Pepsi’s strategy to reverse that slide. Consumers in the U.S. and China will be the first to get a taste of the campaign in coming weeks, which is timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Bad, the singer’s multiplatinum album. The campaign will spread to about two dozen countries by fall.

In the U.S., the company is rolling out collectible 16-ounce blue cans that bear an image of Jackson striking one of his iconic poses. Consumers will be able to scan codes on the cans with their phones to download remixed tracks from Bad.

In the Chinese market, consumers will also see a TV ad featuring Jackson. Contests will also let consumers win tickets to a Michael Jackson-inspired show by Cirque du Soleil and leather jackets inspired by the singer’s style. The global campaign builds on Pepsi’s deal with the singer’s estate last year to use his image in a commercial that premiered during the “The X Factor” TV show last year.

Although Pepsi is banking on the nostalgia Jackson can evoke, the partnership also resurrects painful memories.

In 1984, Jackson’s hair famously caught fire while filming a commercial for Pepsi at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The blaze happened after a spark from a pyrotechnics display landed on the singer’s head. Jackson suffered severe burns and many trace his addiction to painkillers to the incident. Pepsi gave Jackson $1.5 million as a result.

Other music partnerships have led to controversy for Pepsi as well. In 2002, conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly ran a segment criticizing Pepsi for an ad featuring the rapper Ludacris. The company pulled the ad the next day, but ran into trouble a few months later when it ran ads featuring Ozzy Osbourne, who is known for peppering his speech with swear words. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons urged a boycott and the issue was resolved after Pepsi agreed to donate $3 million to charity.

The partnership with Nicki Minaj hasn’t yet raised many eyebrows, even though her lyrics also contain profanity and sexual content. Jakeman noted that Minaj’s song “Moment for Life” was selected for the ad campaign because of specific lyrics that perfectly captured the Pepsi ethos of living in the moment.

At a time when Pepsi is looking to take on a bigger rival, another stanza in the song might have relevance as well: “In this very moment I slay Goliath with a sling…And I will retire with the crown.”

It’s a message Pepsi could very well be sending to Coke.