Any brand can do something that it regrets. Bank of America’s debit-card fee. Netflix’s announced, then de-announced, spinoff of streaming services. The Ford Edsel. Clairol’s Touch of Yogurt shampoo. The Groupon “Tibet” Super Bowl ad. Stuff happens. Mistakes are made. But it is exceedingly rare for one megabrand to announce two mega-stupid ideas on the same day.
I mean brand-damagingly stupid. I mean look-out-for-the-social-media-anger-and-ridicule stupid. I mean in-four-days-we-reconsider, stupid.
On Thursday, PepsiCo announced both a new global theme for Pepsi -- Live for Now! -- and a long-term deal with the Michael Jackson estate for resurrecting the brand's long association with the late King of Pop. This was PepsiCo exec Brad Jakeman in the press release touting the Jackson deal: “Pepsi has always been at the forefront of pop culture, helping to shape the music landscape. 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.”
Hmm. I was under the impression that Jackson was dead for now -- a victim of a drug overdose, administered by his own personal Dr. Feelgood. He was also a man-child who slept with little boys not his own, because it was so sweet and cozy. But let's put that aside for the moment and consider the new global theme. Here's Jakeman again:
"Live for Now' is considerably more than a positioning statement or a single ad creative – it is the central governing idea for the brand globally. Pepsi has always inspired people to embrace the 'now' by being at the epicenter of, and helping to define, pop-culture. 'Live for Now' embodies a mind-set that is true of Pepsi loyalists around the world, while still connecting with a large and growing number of consumers who share the same values. It will enable the brand to deepen its global equity in a relevant and authentic way, and has already inspired a differentiated way of thinking about brand behavior across the entire Pepsi global marketing system."
Wow. There are 111 words or corporate blather that say not one single comprehensible thing.
What they especially do not say is that “Live for Now” is absolutely terrible life advice, especially for Pepsi's worldwide audience of teenagers -- who are, of course, by the very nature of adolescence, at any moment at risk of calamity for not thinking of consequences beyond the here and now. To reinforce already dangerous inclinations toward hedonism and reckless spontaneity is utterly irresponsible. Outrageously irresponsible. Grotesquely irresponsible -– the worst advertiser advice to children since Nintendo’s deplorable “Hock a Loogie at Life” from 1994.
“Live for Now” is license to ignore the admonitions of the adult world to think before you act, because what seems fun in the moment could ruin your life. Or end it. Come to think of it, Michael Jackson wanted to feel good now, God rest his soul.
At this point, some disclosure: I myself had spoken informally with Pepsi about a very different strategic platform – not a slogan, but an internal corporate watchword: “Better.” The idea was not to pretend to be something it is not, but to do better every day across all areas of its business in nutrition (less salt and corn syrup), source reduction, water-supply issues and so on. In time this internal imperative would be observed by the outside world, with obvious benefits flowing there from. This, I believed, conformed with the CEO’s vision for the business…but, as it turned out, not so much. It was as if they’d called me back and said, “No, Bob. ‘Better’ was intriguing, but we’ve decided to go with ‘Worse.’
I understand full well that interaction will be interpreted as sour grapes, or worse. The easiest and most obvious course of action would be for me to stay out of this issue, lest my own professionalism be questioned. That is a risk, however, that I am willing to take; this is not the product of a spurned consultant. It is the product of an extremely indignant parent and citizen.
You don't have to let your imagination run wildly away with you to see the potential harm. Never mind gothic parental fears of grim trips to the emergency room. At a very minimum, this entreaty to kids comes off as a defiant response to the First Lady and the anti-obesity movement. “Don't worry about empty calories! Live for Now!” The words that come to mind are: “How dare they?”
The only reason for the public not to freak out about this outrage is that it is merely a soft-drink slogan -- as vacuous a genre as exists on earth. Across the street at Coke, they say “Live Positively,” which is good life advice, but Pollyanna and irrelevant to sugar water. They also say “Open Happiness,” which is just a lie. But nobody cares, because why would you?
But now PepsiCo has, to highlight its (strategically smart and innovative) online foray into pop-culture content, gone beyond fluff and hyperbole into the dangerous realm of loaded language. “Live for Now” is the devil on your shoulder, arguing against the angels of caution and decorum. You know -- the kind of devil that says, “Supersize it,” or “Inject me again.”
This is not “a differentiated way of thinking about brand behavior across the entire Pepsi global marketing system.” It is simply a disgrace.