The Pepsi Generation, Refreshed: A Historical Look

Pepsi has been running the ‘Pepsi Generation’ ads for quite some time now. As we discussed in class, this series of commercials has stretched a few decades, and has targeted various generations. Of course, as the times change, advertising changes. The consumers change; they change their consumption habits, their reasons for buying products, and they change what material resonates with them as an audience. Thus, to address the ever-changing consumer base, ads and their content must shift accordingly. Pepsi’s 2009 Super Bowl advertisement is a perfect example of how advertisements can be placed into a historical context, and can be used to both tell us something about society at the time, as well as how this effected advertising.

As I mentioned in my previous post discussing this particular ad, today’s nostalgia plays a huge role in shaping this commercial. “My generation is one that prizes ‘vintage,’ with all of the 90s kids looking back to the glory days of Blockbuster and Furbies. It seems that a desperation to be more like past generations have swept over us so much so that we sometimes forget to move forward.” In this commercial, Pepsi takes a closer look at this cultural phenomenon that was happening in 2009, and continues to be happening to this day. In the ad, we see clips from both ‘then’ and ‘now,’ but these clips mirror each other. For example, in one shot, Bruce Lee and a woman do the same martial arts move in unison.

This shot does many things. Firstly, it makes cultural references that the audience, both the older Pepsi generation and the younger Pepsi generation, can understand and relate to. Secondly, it draws a comparison between the past and the present, highlighting the fact that although times have changed, things have a tendency to stay very much the same. This comparison satisfies the audience’s thirst for the past by explaining that the present is very much like the past, so much so that you might not have to go looking for it. It also empathizes with the audience by providing these nostalgic images. Various other scenes in this advertisement accomplish this as well, including the ‘throw up your lighters during the heartfelt song’ scene juxtaposed with the ‘throw up your lit cellphones during the heartfelt song’ scene.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this advertisement, though, is its ability to create an experience. This is what sets it apart from older generations of advertisements. It is emphasizing a lifestyle, a dematerialization of the actual product, and focusing on leaving the viewer wanting to be a part of what they just witnessed. The ad doesn’t once mention Pepsi, or show the soft drink until the very end, and that is a very brief product glimpse. The entire one minute spot is about cultivating a feeling about living in the present and honoring the past. This is a soft sell approach.

The main focus of this ad is not to boast the new low calorie Pepsi product, nor to peddle a new flavor. Its focus is to create an image around the brand, or even arguably, an image barely attached to the brand. This soft sell approach is a feature of modern society advertisements. “You need to buy this now!” is no longer an effective way to reach an audience. The soft sell—building a rapport with viewers—and encouraging them to think about their lives and how the company’s product might fit into their lives is far more effective. These associations stick with modern audiences, as opposed to a command to buy. The entire commercial, from the music to the video clips, embodies this approach. Not one logo appears until the end, and as I’ve mentioned, neither is a product.

Using these aspects of Pepsi’s Super Bowl ad, one would be able to tell during what time period it was produced, and the audience that it was produced for. In this case, someone could look back and see a society very focused on preserving past years. The people targeted by this ad could be seen as being busy looking backward, without realizing how great the present also is. Nostalgia is running rampant, and this ad’s characteristics make this very obvious. Yet, at the same time, society’s also one that is progressing and loving every second of it. It is stuck at the crossroad of wanting the old, classic everything back to embracing the new and appropriating it to fill the void the ‘classics’ left behind, as evident with the lighter-to-cellphone scene.

Every ad can be placed into a broader historical context in this way. These ads are actually windows into society at that time. Companies designed these ads to appeal to their audience, or the consumer base, and therefore, society. Thus, the medium of advertisements is actually the message.

JF

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