Calling bullshit on Pepsi

// 22 October 2008

You may have seen stuff on other blogs about the recent supposed Pepsi ad, depicting an unconscious ‘hawt’ woman, the lifeguard who has apparently just dragged her out of the sea, and a leery teenage boy. The deal is that, in exchange for a can of Pepsi, the lifeguard will ‘swap’ with the teenage boy, and the subtext is that the boy will abuse his position as ‘lifeguard’ to sexually assault the unconscious woman (presumably by giving her the ‘kiss of life’). I’m not posting the picture because I can’t be arsed to give it any more currency. You can find it if you google for it.

Plenty of people expressed justified outrage at this ad, which normalises rape culture, reducing the implied sexual assault to some sort of nudge-nudge, wink-wink joke.

Now Pepsi have taken steps to deny this advert is anything to do with them, through blog comment boxes and personal emails, assuring bloggers and complainants that this was an unsolicited pitch from an advertising agency, and that “it inadvertantly made its way to the internet”. Bullshit.

This is what viral marketers *do*. They pay some ad agency to put out an ad that’s so offensive it’ll be guaranteed to have everyone writing blog posts about it, sending links to the You-Tube ad for it and generally be talking all over the place about it. You know, the sort of ad they’d never get on TV because it contravenes all sorts of regulations on discrimination or incitement to hatred. Then after people have started talking about it, they issue a statement denying all knowledge (guaranteeing people talk about it a while longer – and, look, Pepsi – it’s working!). Finally, they get to have their cake and eat it. Everyone’s talking about it, they spend minmal money circulating it, and they get to look like the good guys by saying things like:

“Please know that we would never use this type of imagery to sell our products”.

.. and have people like Melissa McEwan (who I love, I’m not having a dig!) say things like:

“their response is about as good a corporate reply to a concern raised about misogynist advertising as I’ve seen”

Meanwhile, Melissa herself points out that Pepsi actually is a listed client of the advertising agency in question. There is no question that this could have been for prior work. It could be that what Pepsi said to Cara, that they had genuine “respect and understanding for our offense at the ad” is true. Cara spoke to them, not me, and she might have a different take on it.

All I’m saying is…. it worked out pretty well for Pepsi, huh?

Sounds like bullshit to me.

** this is all my opinion, I could be wrong yadda yadda, please don’t sue me **

Comments From You

Leigh // Posted 22 October 2008 at 9:08 am

Hang on a bloody minute!

Firstly, IF the advertising agency has leaked this image WITHOUT the consent of Pepsico. WHY aren’t Pepsico. SUING them for copyright violation and defamation of their brand?

Secondly, why aren’t we attacking the ad agency for allowing this idea to get from the pencil-sketch-stage to the expensive-photoshoot-and-composite-stage?


Amity // Posted 22 October 2008 at 9:21 am

I am inclined to agree with you. It just seems too convenient that all this ‘viral marketing’ is being done by rogue ad agencies that supposedly have nothing to do with the manufacturer of said products. Why would they go to all the trouble and expense if they hadn’t been commissioned? I suspected the same motives when Guinness denied involvement in that gangbang ad that circulated a couple months ago. It’s devious, unethical and disgusting.

Leigh // Posted 22 October 2008 at 9:32 am

The ad company to complain to: .

Designers have to meet their job requirements and briefs in spite of a number of restrictions. These include Time, Budget, Intended Media, Target Audience AND Professional Ethics. They FAILED to meet the last one. Call them on it.

What I just wrote to Pepsi:

Dear Mr Casabona,

I was interested to read your response here: .

Very few things inadvertently find their way onto the internet. Given the current climate of ‘Viral Adverts’ many companies release adverts on the internet in order to avoid press complaints authorities and still obtain publicity and visibility for their product. Can you reassure myself and the public that these prints were not part of such a campaign by telling us what action was taken against the ad agency that worked up and then leaked these designs? Have they lost their contract with Pepsico.? Have they been threatened with legal action for copyright infringement, breach of contract or defamation and unauthorised use of the Pepsi brand? Has there been any press release stating this?

I thank you for your time, and anticipate your response to this.

Yours sincerely,

Leigh Woosey

Leigh // Posted 22 October 2008 at 9:52 am

And what I wrote to the ad agency

Dear Sir or Madame,

Please can you explain why you thought this advert was acceptable, especially for a brand that is principally enjoyed by young people and teenagers? Why did you think that implied sexual assault and the apparent bartering for access to a woman’s body, even if exaggerated to comic degree would not be misogynist and deeply inappropriate for that brand and target audience? And why it was released to the internet apparently without your client’s consent ?

I anticipate your response.

Yours faithfully,

Leigh Woosey

Remember- if you’re going to do the same rephrase what I have said in your own words so they don’t ignore us all because they think we are spam. And remember to be sober and polite (more polite than me). Even if these ads have offended us, that’s no excuse for being offensive, rude, threatening or aggressive ourselves.


JenniferRuth // Posted 22 October 2008 at 1:54 pm

Whilst I am not defending this disgusting advert in any shape or form, the blame does lie with the ad agency rather than Pepsi.

I work for a creative agency and lots of ideas are created and pitched – it is entirely possible Pepsi had never seen these before they went viral. Besides, that is why companies hire agencies – to have the ideas. Obviously the idea in the case of the lifeguard advert was misogynistic and horrible. I am glad to see Pepsi distance itself from it.

However – it is, of course, also possible that Pepsi *did* want these ads to go viral. Publicity is publicity, after all. You could be totally right. I just wouldn’t want to jump to that conclusion. Or maybe the industry hasn’t made me quite so cynical yet! (naivety can be a weakness of mine, I’ll admit)

One day, I hope to run my own creative agency that actually has moral standards (and less white, straight men because like the rest of the world, that they are the majority sitting at the top). I’d be disgusted if I worked somewhere that came up with anything like that ad.

Leigh // Posted 22 October 2008 at 3:32 pm

Had a response from Pepsi, saying they would never use viral marketing tactics like the ones describe above and in my email and that once they have investigated the circumstances of the print making it onto the internet they will take appropriate action to make sure this situation does not recur.

Renee // Posted 22 October 2008 at 5:26 pm

You know I never thought about it from that perspective and it makes perfect sense. It did get Pepsi some great free advertising because many feminist blogs wrote about this, though I for one did not print their denial.

It makes you wonder if we are going any good at all pointing out when a company engages in this kind of virulent sexism if the end result is that they still get the opportunity to get their message to a wider target audience.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 22 October 2008 at 8:23 pm

JenniferRuth: If that ad agency gets off the ground, would you like a college graduate with some journalism experience? I’d love to hire on. (Apologies for being off topic) Frankly, I think it’s kind of odd that I didn’t notice how off this ad was until I read the blogs on it.

Juanita // Posted 22 October 2008 at 9:04 pm

Thank you thank you thank you for not being gullible, and for not kissing the bums of corporate tools! Right on sistahs!

Lucy // Posted 23 October 2008 at 12:05 am

As a photographer, I can tell you that no agency would release this as a ‘pitch’ considering the money needed to produce an image like that – paying the models, paying the photographer, retouchers, lighting, food for the crew, location…the list is endless. Why would they do that without knowing pepsi were going to use the ad somehow? answer: they wouldn’t! Complete bullshit

Eve // Posted 26 October 2008 at 1:02 am

Lucy, that is not true. Some times what is said on paper is different than what is recorded and Pepsi needs to sign off on the idea. You may be right that they signed off on the original idea but that doesn’t mean they signed off on every image to be released. They could have pitched “We will have pictures of people giving up a pepsi for very valuable goods showing how important pepsi is” and pepsi said okay without knowing the ad agency was going to put in a woman as one of the goods.

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