ESCALATION OF COLA WARS WITH MADONNA, MICHAEL
DAVID HINCKLEY, New York Daily NewsSUN-SENTINEL
Spokesmen for Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola don't have any trouble explaining why those companies are paying millions of dollars for Madonna and George Michael, respectively, to become the star attractions in the latest round of Dueling Colas.
"Madonna is a certified superstar," says Tod MacKenzie of Pepsi, whose two-minute commercial on Thursday was the world premiere of Madonna's new single, Like a Prayer. "There is a limited list of names with true staying power, and she has proven to be one."
"George Michael is unique," says Michael Beindorff, vice president/ advertising for Coca-Cola USA, whose 90-second Diet Coke spot features Michael as a bullfighter. "This spot is different from what anyone else has ever done, but that was the challenge: How you use a piece of talent like George Michael."
Coke and Pepsi also don't have any trouble explaining the appeal of these associations to the stars.
"Madonna had no qualms about going into an ad," says MacKenzie. "Our spots are really less like product ads than Pepsi presenting an artist. We can help her to a new plateau artistically, and since we're also sponsoring her tour, we can provide a level of worldwide exposure which is very attractive to her."
"Sure, there's a concern on both sides about compromising artistic integrity," says Beindorff. "If George Michael comes off as a bozo, it hurts him and us, too. That's why he was involved from the beginning; when it comes off tastefully, it works to his advantage and ours, too."
But wait. Aren't Madonna and Michael just a little odd as mother and father figures for something as mainstream as soda? Or, to put it bluntly: There are people out there who think Madonna is a bit of a tramp and George Michael is more than a bit arrogant. Even among people who like their music, we're not talking consensus Mr. and Ms. Congeniality here, image-wise.
No problem, say Coke and Pepsi.
"When you're involved with a celebrity on the level of Madonna, there will always be some controversy," says MacKenzie. "And you're inevitably buying into both sides of her image. But we think the main focus will be on her talent."
"You have to accept that some people will not like George Michael," says Beindorff. "But what appealed to us is that very few people are turned off by him. He doesn't have as high an overall recognition factor as Madonna or Michael Jackson, but their audience tends to be very polarized in terms of liking them or not liking them. As a broad-based product, we try not to associate with someone with a high negativity rating."
That concern, presumably, is one reason many companies use songs rather than performers.
Conversely, some artists still feel pop music loses its integrity when its creators (or others) sell the music as a marketing tool. Neil Young's This Note's for You, John Fogerty's Soda Pop and Chrissie Hynde's How Much Did You Get for Your Soul are recent songs lamenting this. John Cougar Mellencamp, Bob Seger, Billy Bragg, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan are among artists who have declined product associations.
Pepsi: Madonna's Ad and Teaser
Coke: George Michael Ad