How Michael Jackson, Pepsi Made Marketing History | Adweek How Michael Jackson, Pepsi Made Marketing History | Adweek
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How Michael Jackson, Pepsi Made Marketing History

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Essentially two kinds of people existed in the '80s: Coke drinkers and Pepsi drinkers. And if you loved Michael Jackson, you had good reason to fall into the latter group.

In November 1983, one year after "Thriller" was released, Jackson (with his brothers) and PepsiCo struck a $5 million partnership that would shatter the record for a celebrity endorsement deal, link the two entities for a decade and set the bar for every integrated marketing campaign that would follow.

Jackson's managers approached Jay Coleman, founder/CEO of Entertainment Marketing & Communications International, who would eventually broker all three Jackson-Pepsi deals, with the idea of partnering Jackson with a major brand at a firm asking price. Coleman, who had already orchestrated Jovan fragrances' landmark sponsorship of the Rolling Stones' Tattoo You tour, first proposed the idea to Coca-Cola.

"They gave it serious consideration yet couldn't make that leap of faith," Coleman says. "They saw anything they would do with Michael as a more targeted, ethnic campaign." Coca-Cola offered a $1 million deal that was rejected and the Jacksons moved on to PepsiCo, where then-CEO Roger Enrico was looking for a big idea to launch his youth-targeted "New Generation" campaign for the brand. "The goal was to make Pepsi look young and Coke look old, and Michael Jackson was in fact the choice of that generation—he was already the King of Pop, even though he hadn't declared it," Coleman says.

PepsiCo and its ad agency, BBDO, also hesitated at the possible cost, but Coleman's proposal proved too appealing. "I pitched it as a multifaceted marketing campaign with lots of touch points: big-time advertising, tour sponsorship, logos on the cans, displays in the supermarket and PR-friendly events," Coleman says. When Jackson suggested using his song "Billie Jean" as the jingle (with the rewritten chorus, "You're the Pepsi generation/Guzzle down and taste the thrill of the day/And feel the Pepsi way"), Pepsi was sold.

So pervasive was the first campaign, which ran from 1983 to 1984, that the stories surrounding it have become like fables: the infamous accident that set Jackson's hair on fire and resulted in his rumored first cosmetic surgery, the star's desire to hide his face behind sunglasses for a "less is more" effect, and so on.

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