Ed Driscoll

What on Earth was Mountain Dew Thinking?

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Just when you think pop culture can’t descend any lower.

I’m guessing Don Draper would not have approved the above ad, even after the heaviest of all-nighter Seagram V.O. benders with Roger Sterling. Here’s James Lileks’ take, beginning with a link to a New York Post article on the commercial, the very definition of ill-conceived:

What is wrong with these people?

PepsiCo is once again learning the risks of celebrity partnerships after an ad for Mountain Dew was criticized for portraying racial stereotypes and making light of violence toward women. The soda and snack food company said it immediately pulled the 60-second spot after learning that people found it was offensive.

The ad was part of a series developed by African-American rapper Tyler, The Creator, and depicted a battered white woman on crutches being urged to identify a suspect out of a lineup of black men.

“For brands that are going after a young demographic, they’re always walking that fine line between getting in trouble and appealing to their audience,” said Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, a marketing firm based in Atlanta.

Oh, such a fine line.

* * * * *

If it had won awards and impressed many people with its “edgy” humor, they’d be proud to let you embed it. By all means! Yes, enjoy our sharp, brave ads – we’re always pushing the envelope, and you can help!

But they misjudged it, somehow. Really? How? Did they think the source of the idea innoculated them?

I wonder if anyone lost their job over this.

Yes, the liberal postwar overculture of the 1950s through the mid-1960s was “plastic,” as The Graduate claimed. Yes it was full of “phonies” and hypocrites as Holden C. warned. On the other hand, it had enough common sense — read, good taste — to instinctively reject a commercial such as this. Not only would it never have been aired, it would have never left the ad agency’s presentation boardroom.

But even if the above commercial wasn’t pulled by Mountain Dew — or, more conspiratorially, wasn’t designed to be deliberately banned to create that all-important “edgy” “buzz” — epater those bourgeois with that nostalgie de la boue! — what fine associations to make with your product.

However, Lileks couldn’t be more in error, when he writes, don’t bother looking for the ad on the Internet:

Pepsi went through the web and made sure it went down the memory hole. The ad no longer exists. The ad never existed. Those of us who saw it when it was permitted to be seen will be dragged screaming off to the loony bin. But it was real! There were fat white men and a line-up of frightening racial archetypes! And a talking goat! Uh huh.

Actually, the ad is all over the place. I found a copy on an Australian video aggregation Website; veteran blogger Pat Dollard has a copy; we have one above; and no doubt, so do countless others. So from that perspective, Mission Accomplished, right, Pepsi? The left-leaning Mediaite Website has a copy as well, embedded in a post titled, “Watch The Mountain Dew Ad Pulled After Critics Called It ‘Arguably The Most Racist Commercial In History.’”

But given how the left thoroughly maxed out the R-word beginning in 2008, what difference does it make to PepsiCo, to paraphrase a recent former secretary of State?

Update: An AP article on the above ad notes that this isn’t the first time in recent memory that Mountain Dew has been criticized for an offensive ad campaign:

Mountain Dew also was criticized recently because of its endorsement deal with Lil Wayne, whose rap lyrics compared a rough sex act to the tortuous death of Emmett Till, a black teen who was murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. And last month, Reebok also ended its relationship with Rick Ross after he rapped about giving a woman a drug to have his way with her. Women’s groups and rape victims issued petitions in protest.

“For brands that are going after a young demographic, they’re always walking that fine line between getting in trouble and appealing to their audience,” said Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, a marketing firm based in Atlanta.

If PepsiCo had created an ad for Mountain Dew, Ries said it might not have been considered edgy or cool. But by handing over control to a celebrity, she said the company ran the risk of having an ad that wasn’t appropriate.

PepsiCo Inc., based in Purchase, N.Y., apologized in a statement and said it understood how the ad could be offensive.

By the way, to understand what sort of corporate culture would produce such ads, it’s worth noting that the CEO of PepsiCo is Indra Nooyi, who in 2005 told the graduating class of Columbia Business School:

This analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents leaves the long, middle finger for North America, and, in particular, The United States. As the longest of the fingers, it really stands out. The middle finger anchors every function that the hand performs and is the key to all of the fingers working together efficiently and effectively. This is a really good thing, and has given the U.S. a leg-up in global business since the end of World War I.

When called on the notion that she was effectively flipping America the bird by Power Line’s Scott Johnson in article at the Weekly Standard, Pepsi and Nooyi attempted to play the victim — you’re misconstruing Nooyi’s perfectly benign remarks! — but eventually Nooyi relented:

Following my remarks to the graduating class of Columbia University’s Business School in New York City, I have come to realize that my words and examples about America unintentionally depicted our country negatively and hurt people.I appreciate the honest comments that have been shared with me since then, and am deeply sorry for offending anyone. I love America unshakably–without hesitation–and am extremely grateful for the opportunities and support our great nation has always provided me.

Over the years I’ve witnessed and advised others how a thoughtless gesture or comment can hurt good, caring people. Regrettably, I’ve proven my own point. Please accept my sincere apologies.

Perhaps she should keep that last paragraph on a macro; it might come in handy this week.