By the year 2001, Britney Spears had exploded into pop culture and established herself as the not-so-innocent girl next door that had captivated the world’s attention. At this point in her career Britney had constructed an interpolating image as the ultimate, virginal male fantasy. Her career began as the naughty schoolgirl that publicly vowed to save her virginity for marriage all while stripping down to a nude body suit during her latest performance at the MTV Music Video Awards. This collision of sex, innocence, and youth teased audiences and made her one of the most sought after performers of the generation.

This year also marked the launch of Britney Spears as Pepsi’s latest spokeswoman. This paper will explore how the success of Pepsi’s campaign featuring Britney Spears is rooted in the power of the “cool” consuming youth and the media’s portrayals of gender. This match made in consumerism heaven manipulates the power and tastes of the youth to create an interpolating campaign. Historically, Pepsi targeted the youth in advertising, specifically referring to this consumer group as the “Pepsi Generation.” This “Pepsi Generation” is defined by the young, carefree, fun, and lively ideals of youth. Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson explore the power of brand images in advertising in “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” The main goal of advertisements is “to boost the value of commodity brand names by attaching them to images hat possess social ad cultural value” (81).  The decision to use Britney Spears as Pepsi’s spokeswoman is meant to translate the elements of Britney’s popularity in pop music culture to the Pepsi brand. This brand image position can be viewed as an opposition of Coca-Cola’s traditional, classic, and nostalgic targeting.

By the mid-1990s teenagers had become a major target trend for advertisers worth 125 billion dollars (Leiss, et al. 478). In Social Communication in Advertising: Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace William Leiss and others explore the generational differences between Generation X and their predecessors, “Rather than being rejecters of consumerism, Xers were purchasing and spending on things that increase their sense of esteem and belongingness” (478).  This generation of youth provided to be a profitable target for advertisers as this group was impressionable, just entering the consumer market, and had a disposable income. Naomi Klein describes in “Alt. Everything” the new attitude of 1990s youth and their tendencies to buy into the popular culture to create their own personal identities. She writes, “Their parents might have gone bargain basement, but kids, it turned out, were still willing to pay up to fit in” (Klein 68). In the past much of the youth culture was defined by anti-consumerism sentiments, however, this nineties youth generation presented a new breed of consumers that are aware of consumerism, yet, accepting and willing to buy into it to be accepted socially.

Klein focuses on the need for brands to reevaluate the modes of targeting this age group and their need “to fashion brand identities that would resonate with this new culture” (68). This new means of marketing was reliant on discovering what was cool by the youth tastemakers. The definitions of what defined “cool” manifested in schools and everyday life for the youth. Marketers investigated these trends and the “cool kids” setting them in order to capitalize on them before they are mainstreamed. This demand to discover what constituted “cool” streamlined into business opportunities known as “cool hunting”. Cool hunters “would search out pockets of cutting edge lifestyle, capture them on videotape and return to clients” (Klein 72). The ironic aspect of this hunt for cool is that once the next trends are discovered, they are mainstreamed by major brands, and therefore made “uncool” within the subculture. This creates a never-ending cycle of mainstreaming “cool” subculture trends, thus destroying the “cool” factor within that very same subculture. The quest for “coolness” is plagued by insecurities for this target market. This target group is consumed by questioning their “coolness” in every moment as if it is one of their most important necessities (Klein 69). This need to buy into a “cool” identity is an opportunity for brands to capitalize off of the youth’s insecurities. This generation of youth relies on brands and consumption to construct a “cool” identity.

Pepsi “Now and Then” (2002).

Britney’s second commercial, “Pepsi Generations,” exemplifies the ever-changing definitions of “cool” during past decades. The commercial is made of small clips that represent the major trends of specific time periods ranging from 1958, 1963, 1966, 1970, 1989, up to the release of the commercial in 2002. Each segment of the commercial reflects the fashion and music trends through the styling of Britney and the extras, but also through the styling of the Pepsi bottle and logo. From start to finish the viewer experiences all of the changes between the black and white Pepsi glass bottle to the vibrant colors of the 2002 Pepsi can and new simple logo. Goldman and Papson describe a common means of using cultural cannibalism, a tactic to transfer meanings of cultural signs to a brand or product, as “frequently appropriating an image—a celebrity, a style, or the like—that is ‘hot’ in terms of its potential market value” (89). Britney is the epitome of “hot” in 2002, thus her presence in the past generation’s ideals of “cool” assigns this hyper-cool messaging to the Pepsi products featured in every generation. The advertisement exemplifies the historical “emphasis on consuming, owning, and wearing signs as an indicator of personal identity” (Goldman And Papson 91). Each segment of the commercial is carefully designed to exude the historical trends of each time period. The two constants in the ever-changing definition of “cool” in every generation are Britney and Pepsi, thus cementing their cool status as a constant throughout changing generational trends. The lyrical content of the songs promotes ideals of the young, fun, and hip “Pepsi Generation.” commercial ends with Britney singing, “For those who think young,” which speaks to audience’s that value youth. This slogan was then utilized on the coinciding billboard in New York City.

Image

Pepsi “Now and Then” billboard in New York City.

Britney’s superstardom had transformed her into the ultimate teen dream for the American public’s consumption. This ability to buy into her brand was made possible through her different channels such as CDs, music videos, tours, magazines, books, posters, dolls, apparel, and other endorsements such as Herbal Essences. Her popularity and the huge demand to buy into her persona collide to create the perfect union between Britney Spears and Pepsi. As Britney was the ultimate “it-girl” of the time, aligning her name with Pepsi transfers Britney’s coolness to Pepsi’s brand and products. William Leiss and others credit the use of celebrities in advertisements as “a creative tool that allows one to reach the deeper levels of meaning-construction in ads” (165). Britney was the major fixation of pop culture at this time. Her fashion raised eyebrows for parents that deemed her persona too sexual for young children. These concerns fueled the youth’s fascination with Britney and augmented her coolness.

Pepsi “Gladiator” (2004) starring Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Pink, and Enrique Iglesias.

The 1980s saw Pepsi’s first major affiliation with music and mainstream pop culture when Michael Jackson became the face of the brand. Two decades later, Britney Spears acts as the modern version of Michael Jackson for the Pepsi brand. Leiss states, “To Generation X, the marketplace, advertising, and mass media continue to be a seamless fabric of popular culture, one not more important than the other, and all interacting in a complex web of intertextual references and commonly shared experiences” (478). Pepsi’s brand identity relied heavily on popular music culture. All three of Britney’s commercials featured new songs performed by Britney herself and mimicked the style of her infamous videos: high production, intricate choreography, and minimal wardrobe. The style of the commercials reflecting music videos reflects the popularity of MTV culture during this period. The last of her three commercials, 2004’s “Gladiator,” featured other pop culture veterans Beyoncé, Pink, and Enrique Iglesias. The inclusion of the four major pop acts of the time cements Pepsi’s brand image as the epitome of popular music culture.

The rapid popularization of the Internet use by the youth resulted in changes within the music industry. The Internet allowed more interactivity such as online voting for music videos on MTV’s Total Request Live, but also created problems such as file sharing programs. This time began the shift from purchasing CDs to downloading music online, whether for free from Napster or purchasing songs from iTunes. To capitalize on this new trend, Pepsi launched http://www.PepsiMusic.com. A print ad for Britney’s campaign focuses on this new platform. The only text on the ad besides the Pepsi name on the bottle and Britney’s name is “PepsiMusic.com.”

Image

Britney PepsiMusic.com print ad.

This online platform utilizes the trendy, new platforms to connect with media-savvy youth. Pepsi and Apple’s iTunes partnered to give away 100 million songs with the purchase of Pepsi products. In the promotion, a code would be printed on the Pepsi product’s cap that could then be entered in the iTunes music store where the user could redeem one song of his or her choice. This promotion exemplified the progressiveness of Pepsi when promoting music trends as iTunes had just begun as a music-downloading platform. Pepsi furthered their music affiliations by sponsoring Britney’s 2001-2002 “Dream Within A Dream World Tour.” The tour is a special opportunity for fans to experience Britney in person. Having the Pepsi brand logo and Pepsi products at each venue transfers the excitement of this Britney experience to the Pepsi brand. The poster below features Britney, yet also heavily features Pepsi branding. Within the letters of “BRITNEY” is the Pepsi sign that is featured in Britney’s “Joy of Pepsi” commercial. It also features the sleek Pepsi logo and followed the red, white, and blue color scheme of Pepsi, making Britney and Pepsi a packaged deal.

Image

The “Dream Within a Dream World Tour” Poster available for purchase throughout her tour.

Britney’s first commercial with Pepsi: “The Joy of Pepsi” (2001).

The very first commercial ad from the campaign debuted at the 2001 Superbowl. This huge platform set the tone for the audience as the event embodies prevailing notions of gender. The Superbowl and its commercials promote the ideal male lifestyles that the audience is conditioned to internalize. Michael A. Messner and Jeffrey Montez de Oca analyze the construction of gender representations in liquor and beer advertisements during the Superbowl. The major representations for men in these ads are as “losers,” a male that is a chump and in constant danger of being humiliated by other men or beautiful women, or “buddies,” a group of male friends whose lack of masculinity is protected by the group’s numbers (Messner and Motez 1887). Both are portrayed in Britney’s first commercial, “The Joy of Pepsi.” First a loser is show in the ad when a young man is so invested in watching Britney that his gaze is not broken even when the kitchen he is supposed to be working is in flames. When the firemen come to put the fire out, one fireman joins him in the all-consuming state of staring at Britney. The ad also features buddies when a group of working-class men wearing Coca-Cola attire are gathered around a television in a similar gaze of Britney in her Pepsi commercial. Buddies are seen between the two senior citizens sharing an oxygen mask as they watch Britney dance around on television.

These representations make these men, and their masculinity, completely subordinate to Britney’s presence. Britney’s power is reliant on her sex appeal and perpetuates the media’s inclination of hyper-sexualized representations of females. Britney infatuates the men of this commercial as she embodies the ultimate “hottie.” Hotties in advertisements serve “as highly sexualized fantasy objects. These beautiful women serve as potential prizes for men’s victories and proper consumption choices” (Messner and Montez 1887). The sexual thoughts of the males in the commercial are made clear by their wide-eyed stares, increased heart rates, and need for medical assistance. At the conclusion of the commercial, Bob Dole tells his barking dog, both of whom are in the wide-eyed gaze, “easy boy.” This is the comedic punch line of the ad. By having the dog bark in excitement over Britney’s video, it exaggerates Britney’s sex appeal to such a powerful position that it transcends the human race. Britney’s position as a sexual object to be consumed is aided by the styling and editing of the video. At the beginning of the video, Britney rips off her Pepsi-branded jumpsuit to reveal her signature stomach-revealing top and tight jeans, both of which feature the Pepsi logo colors. Close-ups of her body, including her trademark belly button ring adorned with a Pepsi logo, assist the viewer in seeing Britney as a sexual object. This type of female representation is commonplace in advertising, by styling her in Pepsi themed clothing she further becomes a product of Pepsi that is available for physical consumption by the public. Britney is not physically capable of being consumed; the closest the public can get to consume her is through her products. Consuming Pepsi thus can equate to consuming a piece of Britney.

Pepsi’s campaign with Britney Spears capitalized on cool youth culture and sexualized representations of women to become one of the brand’s most iconic advertising campaigns. The advertisements allowed Pepsi to gain the abstract associations of Britney Spears’s image: hot, fresh, and popular. This advertising campaign featuring Britney Spears strongly reinforced Pepsi’s brand identity as the young, hip, and progressive cola.

Works Cited

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson ‘Advertising in The Age of Accelerated Meaning’ (1996).” The Consumer Society Reader. Ed. Juliet Schor and Douglas B. Holt. New York, NY: New, 2000. Print.

Klein, Naomi. “Alt. Everything.” No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs. New York: Picador, 2002. Print.

Leiss, William, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, and Jacqueline Botterill. Social Communication in Advertising: Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Messner, Michael A., and Jeffrey Montez de Oca. “The Male Consumer as Loser: Beer and Liquor Ads in Mega Sports Media Events.” Signs. Spring 2005.  Print.

 

-CK

Advertisements