Pepsi’s advertising in India has always been garishly over-the-top, right from the days of Yehi Hai Right Choice, to Pepsi Thi Pee Gaya. We tend to watch it with the same sense of disbelief as we do with a David Dhawan film. Given that they sell unhealthy sweetened water (and rope in super healthy brand ambassadors like Tiger Shroff, who’d probably advise you to not drink Pepsi in real life), that’s the best kind of attention they deserve too, broadly.
Pepsi has also tried anti-establishment narratives given that they target the ‘youth’ who, as a segment, is known for such tendencies. The rebel without/with a cause brigade.
Their 2015 anti-establishment ad (by JWT) was misdirected, and hence adequately criticized.
It implied that all those anti-establishment traits may be thrown away with adequate temptation. In the ad’s case, the temptation comes in the form of Pepsi and the brand portrayed itself as anti-students, in the end.
They tried another version of students’ anti-establishment tendencies and firmly portrayed themselves as siding with the students, at any cost (the cost being public decency), in 2019 (by Wunderman Thompson).
That brings us to the latest Pepsi ad, featuring Salman Khan.
The earlier film with this combination was actually a T-series-produced music video that ominously opens with Salman Khan driving a car and people scampering away from the road.
The new, actual ad, by Wunderman Thompson, is perhaps the most genuinely anti-establishment narrative by any brand in recent times!
Take for example the characters of the ‘villains’. The 3 boys who play that role mock the couple studying together and actually tell them that since they are always together, why not get them married?
Not just that – when Salman tries to pacify them with humor (“If you are so keen on getting someone married, why don’t you start with me?” – Salman’s quip is so perfectly placed in the context of his famously single status that has been ridiculed for all its worth), they insist on their logic once again: “Do a boy and a girl study biology together at all?”.
Now, who in India is very, very well known for this line of thought? That, if a boy and a girl are meeting way too often they should be married? This is a frequent show by groups like RSS, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, Sri Ram Sene, and many other self-identified culture-protection brigades. These groups anoint themselves as guardians of the country’s culture as defined by them and go on a moral policing rampage, and are extremely well-known for their antics.
So, Pepsi actually seems to be taking on such groups for their moral policing and using Salman Khan’s so-called swag to counter them with the threat of cinematic violence is a pretty bold move!
Folks from Pepsi and the agency valiantly try to ‘sugar-coat’ the narrative as youth taking on ‘societal judgement’ or ‘unnecessary judgement’.
This is totally understandable since ‘moral policing’, as a phrase is dangerous for a brand to use given it implies very specific groups. This is also very appropriate since sugar-coating is so completely expected from a brand that sells severely unhealthy and sweetened cola.
The minor issue for Salman’s fans would be the question about what exactly is Salman, aged 54, is doing in a college canteen.