Ad Report Card: Pepsi's Britney Exposure

Commentary about business and finance.
March 26 2001 9:30 PM

Ad Report Card: Pepsi's Britney Exposure

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The advertising during the Academy Awards hardly generates the sort of buzz that spots during the Super Bowl get. But this year there was one much-hyped premiere: Britney Spears shilling for Pepsi. In this case there was a Web tie-in, so if you missed the big show last night, you can see the ad here (ignore the main links on that page and instead click either the Windows Media or RealPlayer links under the phrase "Rooftop Vignette" to see the payoff ad). If you're a real Britney-holic, you can even see some "behind the scenes" material, as well as the diary the teen diva supposedly kept to document this historic episode ("It was AMAZING!").

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The Ad: Technically there were two ads, but the first one is really just a setup to the second. In the first ad—you're not going to believe this—what Britney does is sing and dance around in a revealing outfit. The second spot starts out precisely the same way: It opens with a shot from behind of someone in a blue Pepsi jumpsuit. Music builds, the person turns around and—it's her! It's Britney! She whips off the jumpsuit, and it turns out she's wearing one of her sexy little costumes. She struts along and is surrounded by dancers for some synchronized leg flapping. The music is a sort of random amalgam of Britney-pop sounds and beats, with pro-Pepsi lyrics. There's some synchronized head-bobbing. Cutaways to Britney smiling or looking coquettish. Or smiling coquettishly. All of this is identical to the first ad, but now comes the twist: Interspersed with the above are scenes of various slack-jawed males staring at the commercial on television. In other words, the second ad is the first ad, but this time it reveals the audience. Very meta. So there's some stuff with her on a conveyor belt. A cutaway of her stomach. A cutaway of her sucking down a bottle of Pepsi that's sure to linger in many a male id, and so on. We see some Coca-Cola employees entranced by Britney's televised writhing. And then we see … Bob Dole, in a darkened room, watching the ad on television with his dog. Costume change, fireworks, and back to Dole. The dog barks, and Dole says: "Easy, boy." Finally, the slogan: "The Joy of Pepsi."

Un-Secret Formula: Most of this we've seen before: Once again all the usual Britney elements have been tossed into the vat, and this time what's come out is a Pepsi. A rather flat Pepsi. To be fair, all of Britney Spears' endeavors are the result of a calculated blending of dependable pop tropes. But usually whoever is in charge comes up with, for example, a song that's genuinely catchy; her best songs have always sounded a lot like Abba numbers to me—derivative, yes, but perhaps surprisingly durable, too. Anyway, part of the problem is that we've seen an awful lot of Britney in the past year—if you know what I mean—and in the real world no one is still fascinated by her virtual bodice-ripping.

So the new maneuver this time is to actually dwell on the disturbing spectacle of a nation unable to look away from its favorite milquetoast Lolita—I guess so we can contemplate what we gawk about when we gawk about Britney. It's supposed to play as a joke, but in practice it's pretty creepy. Especially when Dole—last seen playing his Viagra connection for uncomfortable laughs in a Pepsi Super Bowl ad—turns up. What's he doing all alone in the dark, anyway? Dole is a funny guy, why is he allowing himself to become America's official dirty old man?

The problem, then, is that Pepsi needed to somehow remix the whole Britney thing but instead just cranked up the volume of the same old tune. Oops! She's done it one time too many. Give it a D.

 

Rob Walker is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and Design Observer and the author of Buying In.

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