Pepsi Fail: When CMOs Go Gangsta

  • by May 3, 2013

nolongeravailableThis week, the third in a series of online videos for Mountain Dew created by a rapper/producer known as Tyler the Creator (see what Cedric started?) was released. As you’ve probably heard by now, this latest spot showed a beaten, black-and-blue old white woman on crutches surveying a police lineup of stereotypical black thugs, while a horny goat in a bow tie, voiced by Tyler himself, threatens her.

The unique, goat-based humor included such creepy lines as  “Snitches get stitches,” and “When I get outta here I’m gonna dew you up.”

But here’s the thing: T the C is himself African-American, known for pushing boundaries and playing with stereotypes. As a rapper/skater (skapper?) and part of a 60-person entertainment collective called Odd Future, he sees himself as a kooky outsider. What’s more, the threatening black “criminals” in the lineup were his friends and fellow performers wearing their own clothing.



And here’s the next twist: Pepsi pulled the work only after Syracuse University professor and social analyst Dr. Boyce Watkins, also an African-American,  inveighed against the spot in a post on, calling it “arguably the most racist commercial in history.” His comments blew up all over the Net (a video going viral in the worst way) -- and Pepsi was suddenly deeply apologetic and yanked all the work.

Both Tyler and his critic are big on social media. Since then, there has been some backpedaling by Watkins, (in a tweet and video, he said his daughters like Tyler’s work) and front-pedaling by Tyler’s manager (“This is someone who grew up on David Chappelle. This situation is layered with context.”)

Who’s in charge here, you might be asking. Certainly, the spot has taken on an afterlife of its own. And no one comes out of this looking good.

It’s one thing for an artist to make a boundary-smashing career, and it’s another for a corporation like Pepsi to give him free reign.

The Creator himself didn’t help his own case much back in April when he explained the history of the deal: “I'm gonna tell them some stupid idea I come up with five minutes before the meeting and they're gonna think it's f***in' retarded, and I didn't get my hopes up," Tyler told Billboard. "And then I took a meeting with them and it was like, ok, uh, they were actually cool and young, a little older than me, and they were like, 'Tell us your commercial idea.'

“Alright, it's a f***ing goat, right? It's a goat and he's going to drink the f***ing Mountain Dew, and he's gonna yell at the lady, and the cops are going to pull him over, and then he's going to be in jail and then he gonna do PCP."

Comedy gold! Greenlight it, baby! Well, obviously my sarcasm is not helping in this very complicated situation. But Pepsi executives also had to know of one of Tyler’s more famous songs, which included the lyric that he’d “rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome.”

Back in April, Tyler, now thrilled with Pepsi, told the press that "Finally someone looked past the rape or the devil worshiping or the immaturity which is evident in the ad….and they gave me a chance and let me be fucking seven years old with their product."

I’m all for free speech, and letting artists be artists. But as his manager mentioned, context is everything. Corporations like Pepsi do not sell art. Someone has to be a grownup here.

The aftermath is full of unfortunate and unintended consequences. The Pepsi people either look like idiots or Kardashians, in terms of wanting attention of any kind.

Tyler himself seems furious, and after the charge of racism and the pulling of the spots, he responded by saying that Watkins is an “older gentleman” who doesn’t get his generation. Then he became a little self-pitying, and angrier about Watkins’ wrongheadedness, and released this to the press: "It's a young black man who got out of the 'hood and made something of himself, who's now working with big, white-owned corporations. Not even in front of the camera acting silly, but directing it…. But instead of looking at the positivity from that, he's trying to boycott Mountain Dew… Not only is it messing up opportunities for me, but also maybe opportunities for another young black male who maybe looks up to me and wants to do that in the future. It's ludicrous."

The reality is that Tyler probably got the most out of it. He’s a household name now.

So is it okay for a young black man to make a video that makes fun of the prevailing stereotypes of black culture to push a product to an urban audience?

It’s hard to tell where the jokes are sometimes. In addition to the obvious racial stereotypes, T the C’s Mountain Dew videos also perpetuated a kind of violence and misogyny that is hard to watch. (My opinion is that young women internalize that bit of cultural ugliness into self-hate. But that’s a whole other conversation.) 

But as his manager suggested, it is all context. And while this work might have been great for a cable show, it was not a good fit for a strictly commercial product like Mountain Dew.

But if you want to sell soda, you’ll never establish brand credibility by piggybacking off a scary, racist, sexist, violent goat. As a result, Pepsi just comes off looking fake and cynical. You don’t even need to “be a 7-year old” to know that.



17 comments about "Pepsi Fail: When CMOs Go Gangsta".
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  1. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC, May 3, 2013 at 6:44 p.m.

    Today, common sense doesn't seem to be common practice at Pepsi for their management, brand managers and advertising professionals. Obviously, Pepsi doesn't sell art and the old advertising adage comes into the picture..."It is only creative if it sells." There is a disturbing scenario and doesn't sell Pepsi or their family of products. What is does do is SELL AGAINST Pepsi.

  2. Bob Paine from The Bob Paine Group, May 3, 2013 at 7:01 p.m.

    This may be the single worst piece of "advertising" that I have ever seen.

  3. Rodney Mayers from Google, May 3, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.

    Bad creative is bad creative. Period.

  4. Randall Hoffner from ABC, Inc., May 3, 2013 at 7:56 p.m.


  5. Janette Noelle Dean from Author, In Defense of Cats!, May 3, 2013 at 8:02 p.m.

    It is a sad state of affairs when professionals are afraid to speak out against a "a scary, racist, sexist, violent goat" for a mascot/spokesperson. I like Coke better anyway! - Author Janette, creator of Sir William the Cat at

  6. Mary Bourke from YP, May 3, 2013 at 8:13 p.m.

    Why is the violence and mysogyny of this horrific ad dismissed as "a whole other conversation"? Would it be easier for you to stomach if the insinuation was that white men had beaten this elderly woman?

    This is the conversation. Do Not Dismiss.

  7. Donna DeClemente from DDC Marketing Group, May 3, 2013 at 8:15 p.m.

    Thank you again Barbara for writing so perfectly how so many of us think. Lets just be real people!

  8. George Parker from Parker Consultants, May 3, 2013 at 9:45 p.m.

    Barbara... As I have posted on "AdScam" I have now come to the realization that the lunatics are definately in charge of the asylum... Unfortunately, the lunatics have no prior experience of advertising. When Beyonce can pull down $50 million as a brand ambassador for Pepsi... Why are we surprised that a racist, misogynist goat can pull down big change for a bad soda? I give up... I fu**ing give up when I contemplate how far we have descended down the rancid tubes of what used to be a great biz... Excuse me for a minute while ... "I ship my pants!" Aaaarggghhh, fuc*ing Aaaargggghhh. Cheers/George

  9. Marla Goldstein from Around The Bend Media, May 3, 2013 at 10:42 p.m.

    Context? You want context? In what context is it ever OK to beat up women? Forget her race, forget her age, forget the race of the men in the lineup. Everyone is going on and on about the racism inherent in this spot and saying that it's being taken out of context and that we just 'don't get it'. Somehow everything's been twisted around to say that racism = bad, but blatant, in-your-face misogyny = meh. And all in the name of selling hyper-caffeinated soda to 14 year-olds. Right!

  10. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis, May 4, 2013 at 3:35 a.m.

    Barbara, I have to agree with Mary and Marla. I feel like you are not addressing the real profane and horrific aspects of the spot--the woman who is badly beat up and further terrorized by thugs.
    I had a visceral response to seeing her-it was scary to realize that this attitude toward a woman was not only condoned, it was lauded as a statement (of what?) that Mountain Dew/Pepsico found appealing and that they felt represented the company's viewpoint? And your comment, "And while this work might have been great for a cable show," seems to be soft-pedaling all the misogynistic content. I am surprised to see this from someone whose writing I admire.

  11. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications, May 4, 2013 at 4:28 a.m.

    In this media hip age, age is the out-post, the young will laugh the older will find it as a set back, there is no middle ground or understanding...

  12. Mark Chmiel from Gluten Free Bar, May 4, 2013 at 5:33 a.m.

    Great perspective and reporting Barbara. What I find amazingly reckless here is this had to have been consciously discussed and approved by Pepsi --and at senior levels. All of my agency and CMO experience tells me legal had to have seen this script and /or production, and raised some/all of these issues. C'mon it's Pepsi. And someone at a quite senior level---even CMO overruled legal and approved. This was a very conscious mistake.

  13. Barbara Lippert from, May 6, 2013 at 11:10 a.m.

    Guys-- am doing a follow up column on the misogyny later this week.

  14. Margaret Lewis from Margaret Lewis Inc, May 6, 2013 at 2:28 p.m.

    Putting aside the full-scale horror and lack of creativity of the spot, may I ask...why is the woman described as old? I doubt she is more than 55. There's another article on this nonsense that describes her as "elderly". Elderly! Personally I think this is another, more subtle form of misogyny that says if you're female and not young and/or overtly sexy, you're washed up. Not to defend the actress...she shouldn't have participated in any of it.

  15. Terry Nugent from MMS, May 6, 2013 at 6:36 p.m.

    A single simple question might have helped the agency and brand team avoid this sordid mess: "Just how is this going to sell more Mountain Dew?"

    This simple question, apparently lost in the lemmingesque quest to be "edgy" and "go viral", is apparently out of fashion in advertising circles judging by much of the consumer advertising to which I am subjected, particularly when viewing programming aimed at the younger demographics.

  16. Sylvia Trevino from Palladium Media, LLC, May 7, 2013 at 3:16 p.m.

    And they dropped Carlos Santana for smoking pot....seems to pale in comparison.

  17. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 17, 2013 at 12:53 p.m.

    This is one where it is tough to know where to begin with idiocy. Pepsi, you have become the drinks of idiots, trash, destruction and contempt to say the least. You deserve all the profit loss that can be mustard plus the loss of your advertising/marketing/business careers. Go flip burgers to go with you Pepsi in high crime areas.

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