The King of (Soda) Pop is Ba-ack


“The king is dead, long live the king.”

The resurrection of Michael Jackson is at hand. Say “Halleluiah!” The second coming of The King of Soda Pop will soon blanket the country with TV spots, internet, Twitter and Facebook ads, billboards, movie theater spots, bus benches, newspapers, you name it. So hide your children, ‘cause Michael the Jackson is a-comin’ back!

In case you haven’t heard, Pepsi-Cola has made an agreement with Jackson’s estate to roll out a billion Pepsi cans with a silhouette of Michael Jackson — who died in 2009 — as part of its newly launched “Live For Now’’ global marketing campaign. PepsiCo and Jackson’s estate declined to disclose the financial terms of the latest deal. Michael Jackson signed onto a Pepsi sponsorship deal in 1984 for a then-record $5 million. He soon became the drink’s spokesman, moon walking and moon hawking the soft drink to kids throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.

A couple of questions come to mind with this promotional campaign. First off, in general how do you feel about raising the dead to sell soda pop? And we’re not talking about a famous person in history who is a long time dead like Julius Caesar or Shakespeare or Orville Redenbacher. Jackson died in June of 2009, that’s not even three years ago. I don’t know if the sealant has even dried around his drawer at the mausoleum yet.

In 2007, when ConAgra Foods Inc. reincarnated their company spokesman, Orville Redenbacher, (who had died in 1995) they ran a commercial that featured a computer-generated version of Mr. Redenbacher who had gotten a modern makeover. Some folks dubbed the character “Orville Deadenbacher.” An ad critic for Adage, an industry trade magazine, called the posthumous pitchman: “Madison Avenue’s first pitchzombie.”

Using dead people to sell stuff lowers the bar in marketing ethics (if there is such a thing) into the creepy and slimily department. Resurrecting a celebrity from their grave who has no say in how their likeness is to be used has always bothered me. A prime example of bad taste is that TV commercial where they used a dead Fred Astaire to sell Dirt Devil Vacuum Cleaners.

There’s more than just a dead celebrity going on here, you’ve got the whole Michael Jackson creepiness attached. Jackson’s weird lifestyle (remember Bubbles the monkey?), his drug abuse that finally killed him, and the criminal charges of child molestation. Wow, sounds like a perfect spokesperson for a soft drink product to me!

If that isn’t creepy enough, how about the official campaign slogan? “Live For Now.” What message does that send? Just live for the moment and don’t worry about the future? Don’t worry about consequences, if it feels good do it, and the hell with tomorrow? That’s what it sounds like to me. And I guess that’s what Jackson did, he lived in the moment. At least that was the image he projected. And look what it got him – a premature death. What a great role model for all the kids out there. And what an odd campaign slogan to attach to a man who died of an overdose under mysterious and illegal circumstances. Creepy doesn’t come close to describing this.

Weird stuff is nothing new for Michael Jackson Pepsi-Cola spots. You might remember the infamous commercial shoot for Pepsi in 1984 that inadvertently set the King of Pop’s hair on fire, burning his scalp. This time Pepsi’s new campaign around Mr. Jackson is timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Bad, the multi-platinum album. “Bad” is kind of fitting; you know, “bad” taste, “bad” marketing idea. But what the heck, if it sells soda pop, well that’s all that counts, right?

A spokeswoman for Mr. Jackson’s estate said the PepsiCo campaign represents the first branding deal since Mr. Jackson passed away, but that more such marketing agreements are planned. Oh boy! I can’t wait to see all the marketing plans next year for the 30th anniversary of Jackson’s Thriller album. The music video featured “living dead” zombies with Jackson becoming a zombie himself. Now that is perfect! At least that promotion will make sense. Michael Jackson, pitchzombie.

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