Dec 5, 2008

Pepsi commits suicide

PepsiMax decided to launch a print campaign recently designed to tout the drink's "one lonely calorie." So BBDO's office in Düsseldorf, Germany decided to visualize just how lonely that one calorie would be by showing a cute but sad little personification of a calorie committing suicide in a few ultraviolent ways, including a gunshot, a hanging, self-immolation and even slitting his little blue wrist with a razor blade while strapped to a rocket.

I can just hear the creative brainstorm sessions now.

STRATEGIST: "We need to promote the idea that the drink only has one calorie."
CREATIVE DIRECTOR: "One calorie, eh? I'll bet it gets lonely in that big blue can, all by itself."
STRATEGIST: "Yes, one is the loneliest number."
CREATIVE DIRECTOR: "If I were that lonely I'd kill myself. Hmm, I know...maybe that little calorie would like to do the same!"
STRATEGIST: "Ja wohl!"

I've lived in Germany, and know that Europeans have a much different sense of humor than we do as Americans. German even has a word for taking pleasure in others' misfortunes called "Schadenfreude." But, Pepsi is a global brand, and what happens in Dusseldorf doesn't stay in Dusseldorf. The play at dark humor will do more harm to Pepsi's core brand image that whatever gains it would possibly make with any targeted segment. Perhaps Pepsi is the one committing suicide here, not the cartoon calorie. There is simply too much risk for misunderstanding and backlash, not to mention a few sleepless nights in Pepsi's legal department.

Needless to say, message boards today have been popping with much anti-Pepsi sentiment, most of it centered on the claim that these kinds of ads are insensitive to the issue of suicide, the 3rd leading cause of death among young adults whom the drink is targeted at. But here I am, talking about PepsiMax on my blog. Maybe that's really what they wanted all along.