Pepsi, why are you so cool?

Our world today is bombarded with thousands of advertisements and there is a severe problem of clutter(large volume of ads an average consumer is exposed to) in which it is hard to stand out as a product. Throughout the past century, Pepsi advertisements have evolved to reflect the concerns of the American culture people live in. From being solely an elegant firm aiming to promote soft drinks, it has become a popularized and sexy brand all about celebrity endorsements. In the end of 2013, Beyonce was the central face for Pepsi with her advertisement “Mirrors”. The choice of Beyonce is not random of course. Beyonce is one of the most popular singers and is regarded as a beautiful, sexy, powerful woman. Beyonce is shown rehearsing in a dance studio when, suddenly, the mirrors in the space, show her reflection dressed in costumes from many of her past music videos  ‘Bootylicious’, ‘Crazy In Love’ and ‘Single Ladies’. The ad pays homage to Beyonce’s career up to this point yet still looks forward with a brand new Timbaland produced song called ‘Grown Woman’ included as a teaser.

According to Ronald Barthes, we use semiotics in order to study signs and their meaning. An image may have a literal and a symbolic meaning. The literal meaning is what we refer to as denotational whereas the latter is the connotational. In the Beyonce ad, there are various signifiers (signs) as well as signified meanings (what each sign means, culturally specific meaning). Beyonce is dancing and when she is feels tired takes a sip of a Pepsi drink and says “Embrace your past, but live for now. The first and most obvious sign(signifier), is the choice to use Beyonce in the ad. Beyonce signifies strength, confidence, power, feminism. Beyonce is associated with these traits because of her professional career as well as her overall approach towards life and how women should be looked at. A related signifier is the attire she wears throughout the advertisement. Beyonce’s revealing clothing signifies that Pepsi can make you look slim, beautiful, sexy, confident. Lasty, the mirror serves as an important signifier since the mirrors show her reflections form her former career. The crashing mirrors towards the end of the ad, indicate that she is not her past but her present self and desires to live for now. It is completely understood by the slogan” Embrace your past but live for now”. Using the chains of significations, one can pull multiple meanings out of this commercial.  The specific ad draws upon language already present, and the meaning travels through different texts,which is called intertextuality since several past appearances of the singer are presented. Beyonce and the Pepsi campaign continued a tradition of using superstars as endorsements(previous stars like Britney Spears, Shakira have been used).  The ad plays into the idea of “cool” in that it targeted Beyonce’s fans as well as Pepsi drinkers but in a way that was meant to motivate people to drink Pepsi for the result and not the taste. The consumers should think they will feel as good and “cool” as Beyonce if they buy Pepsi.

Goldman and Papson in “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning” talk about the shift from product-focused advertising to a specific image/lifestyle portrayed and the concept of cultural cannibalism. The article states, “Advertisements are structured to boost the value of commodity brand names by attaching them to images that possess social and cultural value” (81). By aligning Beyonce’s image with a brand, the ideologies of Beyonce are pushed onto that brand in order to construct a certain lifestyle. Advertising carries ideology through culture. Goldman and Papson state that when seeing ads as ideological we consider four main points: “1) they socially and culturally construct a world, 2)they disguise and suppress inequalities, injustices, irrationalities and contradictions, 3)they promote a normative vision of the world and relationships and lastly 4)they reflect the logic of capital”(96). The “Mirrors” Pepsi ad is ideological because it disguises and suppresses the inequalities that exist towards black women. Beyonce, is a privileged and lucky black woman who has been able to make it through in our society but the ad ignores the fact that there are so many women who are still being used as sex slaves, or other degrading occupations. The ad promotes a normative vision of the world suggesting that people can look and dance like Beyonce by sipping a Pepsi drink. It is paradoxical since Pepsi is actually a soft-drink that contains substances, which are unhealthy and may lead to health concerns. Dancing and looking fit is combined with drinking Pepsi, which is not actually what reflects real world. The slogan itself suggests that drinking Pepsi is the way to live right now and not think of consequences, which is something not possible nowadays since people have responsibilities and must always think of future consequences. The past influences the present and the present influences the future of each individual.

This ad can serve as an example of depicting several changes that advertising experienced during the Creative Revolution of the 1960’s. There was a change in content and production of ads and a shift from an emphasis on sales to a power towards creative people. People started expected ads to be clever, well produced, expensive, well-targeted, authentic with storylines, characters and vivid messages. After Bill Bernbach gave power to the creative people, the industry transformed and people where more skeptical about their consumer choices and exhibited passion about their interests. He stressed that advertising is an art rather than a science. There is no emphasis on the product’s taste, price but it focuses on the experience that comes from the product, demonstrating one of the goals of advertisements made after the Creative Revolution. The advertisment is very creative, music-video like and can be described as “anti-advertising” because it steers away from traditional advertising that explains the product, its benefits and its intended use. (Frank 5). It is self-aware and appeals to the cynic because it understands from decades of previous advertising that any other approach wouldn’t grasp sufficient attention. It recognizes the alienation and boredom consumers face with traditional advertising, so it chooses to advertise a feeling, a lifestyle, an emotion through the use of Beyonce as the main persona. While the Pepsi ad doesn’t seem necessarily self-aware in the sense that it doesn’t mock itself, to an alienated spectator who views commercials with cynicism it could be regarded more as music video rather than an advertisement.

Prior to the Creative Revolution, ads like this were not created and advertising was more indifferent, impersonal and boring in a way. With the massive technological advances as well as the power attributed to people behind the creativity, advertising has become more of a lifestyle and an appeal to emotions. Advertisers need to be savvy in the signs they choose to include in their ads, and the way they market their product as “cool”. Pepsi has successfully managed to do so.

-Natalia K.


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