What do the rapper Ludacris and the Colombian pop singer Shakira have in common? In addition to being nominated in multiple categories for statuettes at the MTV Video Music Awards ceremony on Thursday, the performers will be competing for a more relevant prize: the star of the program's hippest commercial.
Technically, however, they are on the same team. Between segments of the awards ceremony, Pepsi will feature its latest advertisements in a line that is aimed at a multicultural audience. The campaign, which features Shakira and Ludacris, has been introduced in several stages throughout the summer.
Pepsi executives said the company had more than doubled its advertising budget aimed at minorities this year. The company declined to say how much Pepsi spent on the new campaign. But, company officials said Pepsi used 15 television ads that could be categorized as multicultural this year, compared with 7 in 2001, and 20 radio spots, compared with 8 in 2001.
But this new campaign uses multicultural and more urban performers to reach mainstream audiences, as well. Middle America's growing acceptance of a variety of cultures has also fueled the boom in urban-inspired ads and promotions aimed at youth ages 12 to 24. These days, white teenagers in Iowa are just as likely to be buying hip-hop music and wearing baggy jeans as they are to be listening to rock 'n' roll and wearing Levi's, the company said.
"There's a new Pepsi Generation," said Giuseppe D'Alessandro, the director of multicultural marketing at Pepsi. "Our youth are colorblind, and very diverse. It's not ethnic marketing any more, it's multicultural marketing."
Pepsi has used minority performers in past advertisements but largely in marketing aimed at minority groups. The company's first ad aimed at blacks was created in 1948. The print campaign featured a 7-year-old child played by Ron Brown, who was later the secretary of the Department of Commerce, reaching toward a case of Pepsi that his mother held just above his fingertips. A more recent Pepsi commercial about a quinceañera, the 15th-birthday celebration that is the Latin equivalent of a sweet 16 party, was broadcast only in Texas where there is a large Mexican population. Spots featuring Cubans were more likely to be shown in Florida. But, the company said, times have changed.
"You get a Shakira, and she's hot anywhere," said Rebecca Madeira, Pepsi's senior vice president for public affairs. "There aren't the cultural barriers that used to be there. There really is a more diverse world, and we have to sell it that way."
In "Sound Check," which will be broadcast before the MTV show and during the awards themselves, Shakira is rehearsing with her band in preparation for a concert. Outside the building a little boy stares up at the building and reads that the concert is sold out. When Shakira takes a break from rehearsing and twists off the cap of a bottle of Pepsi, a gust of wind comes from the bottle and blows open the door of the concert hall. Soon the boy is running through backstage corridors until he is onstage with Shakira.
"Do you want to hear some music?" Shakira asks. The boy nods and Shakira puts sunglasses on his face and allows him to stay for the concert at which she sings an original tune about Pepsi. As she performs, the Pepsi symbol hangs from the air, and the little boy sits atop the shoulders of a fan in front of the stage. In his hand is a bottle of Pepsi.
The commercial, which was created by Dieste Harmel and Partners, also has a second version in which the participants speak in Spanish and the tag line, "The Joy of Pepsi," is replaced by the words "Movimento Pepsi," or the Pepsi Movement. That set of ads will be shown on Spanish-language television.
The Ludacris spot, "Party," is set in an old house off of a secluded country road. The commercial, which was created by the UniWorld Group, begins when two men drive up in search of a party but assume they have the wrong location because the house appears deserted. But inside, the house is filled with dancing revelers, a disc jockey and Ludacris, who is rapping about Pepsi. Ludacris, who is holding a bottle of Pepsi, says, the taste of Pepsi is " driving me insane." As the frustrated would-be party seekers drive away, Ludacris gulps down a bottle of Pepsi and says "You know how we do," a line that has run in many of Pepsi's previous commercials. The company said that it was intended to serve as a cultural reference for blacks while not alienating other viewers.
In September, Pepsi is scheduled to begin a new Ludacris ad, called "BBQ," and a commercial featuring the comedian Bernie Mac.
In addition to the ad campaign, Pepsi has also developed a partnership with Univision which includes producing a video countdown show and sponsoring several contests with what it called "relevant Latino prizes" like a Ford F-150 truck. (Latinos "overindulge" on trucks, according to Michael Fernandez, Pepsi's manager for Latino marketing.) The company has also created Aguas Frescas, a beverage line of sweet juices in flavors like tamarind, mango and guava that are supposed to be reminiscent of fruit juices that are made in Mexico. The products are currently being test-marketed in Chicago.
Analysts said that Pepsi's ads were capitalizing on a multicultural marketing theme that is appearing in spots for products ranging from beer to food products.
"Pepsi's not alone in this," said Michael Bellas, the chairman of the Beverage Marketing Corporation, a research consulting firm. "The strong marketers have noticed the shifting demographics. We're seeing a higher and higher percentage of the promotional budgets tailored to these groups."
He added: "This is an important group because this is where the hip, young contemporary consumers are today. This is where the action is. You really have to be there and what you want to do is capture these people at the early ages when they form their patterns."
Sherri Day, The New York Times. August 27, 2002
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