ore than 28 years after the fateful first partnership between Pepsi and Michael Jackson, the soda giant and the late singer's estate are teaming up for a new global marketing blitz timed to the 25th anniversary of Jackson's album Bad. The campaign, which will launch this weekend in China before going global, plasters Jackson's image on cans and edits archival footage of his performances into new commercials. Some critics, however, aren't celebrating. Is it in poor taste to use a dead pop star to sell soda?
This is "a deal with the devil": Pepsi is the company behind the 1984 commercial that arguably ruined Michael Jackson's life, says TMZ. The pop star's hair famously caught fire after a pyrotechnic mishap during shooting, leaving his scalp covered with painful burns and leading Jackson down the path to a "hardcore prescription drug" addiction. One of the singer's former managers said doctors first introduced Jackson to the heroin-like opioid Demerol after the accident. The prescription drug habit eventually led Jackson to Dr. Conrad Murray, who was convicted of manslaughter in the King of Pop's death. Why is Jackson's estate getting back in bed with Pepsi?
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It's too soon: It doesn't sit right that Jackson's image is being made the face of a campaign, when he isn't around to authorize it, says Donna Kaufman at iVillage. Sure, he's not the first deceased star to become a posthumous spokesperson — Gap used Audrey Hepburn, while a Dirt Devil commercial starred Fred Astaire. But those celebrities had their heydays over 50 years ago, and died "after long, fulfilling lives." Jackson's death, on the other hand, was fairly recent; Pepsi's ads read like an attempt to capitalize on still-fresh grief.
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Say what you will, it's a shrewd move: Most people under 35 won't remember the hair-burning incident, says Julia Bricklin at Forbes. And they'll recall Bad, if at all, as an album that came out when Jackson, although already retreating into paranoia, was still in control of his life. This seems like a good move to win over consumers, especially those in Asia and outside the U.S. where PepsiCo is working feverishly to capture a bigger chunk of the market. While some might call the campaign "creepy," the millions of dollars fans still spend on all things Jackson make this a business no-brainer.
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