Pity is the one emotion I don’t allow myself to feel, save for exceptional circumstances - when in the company of hopeful Jets fans, for instance, or when my soon-to-be-divorced friends start frantically posting photos of their kids on Facebook. Empathy? Sure. I’ll empathize until the cows come home, especially if said cows had an emotionally distant relationship with their bovine daddies. But nobody likes to pity or be pitied. It’s the saddest form of regard.
Well, I pity Pepsi. In the wake of its relentless torrent of “Hyped For Halftime” brand puffery, I am genuinely concerned about every individual involved in the campaign’s design and execution. I’m less interested in critiquing them than healing them. I want to tuck their feet into a snug afghan, soothe their souls with calming music, prepare them a warm cup of… well, not Pepsi.
“Hyped For Halftime” is less a campaign than an exercise in endurance. Because really: in 2015, a major-league, majorly capitalized marketer can’t possibly believe that a brand can get people excited by saying GET EXCITED, PEOPLE for three straight months, can it? I applaud the commitment-bordering-on-mania, but we’re not gearing up for the appearance of Halley’s Comet here. As far as once-a-year occurrences go, the Super Bowl Halftime Show isn’t exactly Christmas, say, or the Super Bowl.
So what Pepsi is doing here is super-celebrating something that’s more or less fungible. I don’t pretend to speak for every fan, partly because I exist outside Pepsi’s target demographic (my fizzy leisure beverage of choice is Dr Pepper, neat) and partly because spectacle for the sake of spectacle (like the Super Bowl Halftime Show… in fact, like all halftime shows that don’t involve dogs chasing monkeys riding dogs) is lost on me. But would anybody really miss the Super Bowl Halftime Show if it went away, if the networks reverted to the regular-season practice of letting their ex-jock talking heads comment on first-half highlights and over-laugh at each other’s madcap tomfoolery? Probably not. We’d just have a larger temporal window in which to visit the bathroom, is all.
For the last three months, then, Pepsi has been flogging a cinder block in an abandoned factory yard. It has created tiny halftime shows and cute halftime shows. It has been so eager to celebrate its title sponsorship of the Super Bowl Halftime Show that it hasn’t stopped to think, “Hmm, maybe we’re investing this thing with an importance and enormity that we alone believe it deserves? Also, perhaps ‘comely young people wearing factory-distressed jeans and taking selfies’ has devolved into a stereotype that our comely young audience finds demeaning?”
Pepsi even whiffed on its choice of viral-bait celebrities. I’m not talking about the uninterested jocks and magicians, who are easily enough ignored. No, the problem here is “Headin’ For Halftime: The Nasty What Now?” star Craig Robinson - who, based on his frequentforays into the ad world during the last nine months or so, must have some serious debt load to service. Robinson is funny and game, but every personality, no matter how appealing, has a saturation point. It’s like when Robert De Niro stopped being choosy and appeared in 39 movies in a two-year stretch. Dude, you’re allowed to say no. Somebody un-hire this man.
As for the Robinson clip itself, it goes the kitchen-sink route, complete with multiple time warps, a fairy godmother, self-aware overselling of the bit and Facenda-like narration. It’s dizzying - less in the overwhelmed-by-joy sense of the word than the “wow, I need to go outside and get some air” one. I have no idea what Pepsi has in mind for the yet-to-be-debuted segments, but at some point I expect Robinson to turn to the camera and say, “Hey, it is really important that this clip goes viral. Do us a solid and make this go viral, will you? Please? I can pay you in soda.”
In conclusion, I couldn’t summon a “wow, this sucks” if I tried. Pepsi used to be great at marketing. Now, its every dispatch makes me sad and confused. Get well soon.