Writing - Music & Music Business

Rob Rodell

So, what do these three have in common?

In the 1980s, amidst the Cola Wars, at which time Pepsi taste tests were showing that consumers preferred Pepsi’s sweeter taste to Coke, Pepsi embarked upon a marketing strategy to upstage Coke even more, by hitching its star to the two biggest musical stars at the time.

Now Pepsi’s strategy is also very interesting. If you watched Jobs, you will remember that at one stage old Steve hired the big marketing cheese from Pepsi, to take Apple to the next level – this was, of course, before his own unceremonious departure from Apple.

But back to Pepsi. Being the no. 2 cola in the great land of America made them none too happy, so they had a chat to music’s two biggest stars of the 80s – Madonna and Michael Jackson. Now also very interestingly, Madge and MJ were born 13 days apart in the same year, 1958 – she on 16 August, and he on 29 August. Madge confessed that she wanted to be MJ, and sought out his manager at the time, to turn her into a superstar just like he was. Smart cookie, smart strategy. Madge is known for her marketing prowess.

So in the same decade that the taste tests gave Coke a syrup wobbly and they introduced New Coke (BAD idea), Pepsi decided to take it one step further. They hired MJ to do a Pepsi commercial, at which time his hair caught on fire, and he was badly burned. Of course, the headlines did not read as Pepsi would have liked, but were rather more focused on MJ’s bad run of luck and his injuries, singed hair among them.

Then Pepsi decided to sponsor Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ music video, thinking that the brand association between her and them and the psychological concept of transference would work in their favour. But when the video debuted, resplendent with burning crosses, flagrant acts of wanton sexual display, and inter-racial relationships, amongst others, the Catholic Church distanced itself from the not-so-Catholic Madonna, and the video had the OPPOSITE effect for Pepsi.

The lesson? Well, who could have known that Pepsi’s musical star would go so awry? As they always say, hindsight is an exact science. Today Coke is still the bigger cola brand globally, much to Pepsi’s chagrin, no doubt. Maybe they should have a chat to Justin Bieber…

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