Using MLK To Sell Pepsi To Kids. This Is Pretty Low.

February 22, 2006


Pepsi sponsors Do-Something’s MLK Day message, or

MLK Day is used to front for Pepsi’s return to classrooms.

From Jim Metrock:

I was working my way through January tapes of Channel One today when I was shocked to see Pepsi back on the show. It happened on January 5 and several other days in January 2006.

This has the fingerprints of CEO Judy Harris all over it.

This 30-second spot has a nice message about helping others in the same spirit that Martin Luther King helped so many. Then you see that the message is from Do-Something, a nonprofit group. Then students see that Do-Something didn’t pay for this spot but rather Channel One’s old friend Pepsi. Wow.

How stupid can Judy Harris be? The last thing she needs to be doing is adding more junk food and junk drink ads to Channel One News.

Pepsi ended their advertising on Channel One News over a year ago. The last CEO at Channel One Jim Ritts made some comments before he left that losing the junk food advertisers was probably a good thing. Unfortunately for students, Ms. Harris doesn’t agree.

Harris has continued Gatorade ads directed at not only high school students but the youngest of middle school students and some elementary school students. For the overwhelming majority of teens and preteens, Gatorade is a junk drink.

Harris also approved very strange Subway ads. Instead of promoting low-fat, low-calorie sandwiches, Harris, almost like a sick joke, approved commercials for Subway’s most calorie-dense sandwiches.

I have no idea what makes Judy L. Harris tick. I don’t think I really want to know.

What I do know is Channel One’s old trick of running a few reports on healthy eating and then running ads for junk foods won’t “get it” anymore with schools. These Pepsi spots will help a lot more schools end their Channel One service this spring.

Ms. Harris was just recently added to the board of Do-Something. She had to have been totally “hands-on” with this Pepsi/MLK Day ad.

When a person “deconstructs” a spot like this one, the last couple of frames are the most important. Yes, we see a young woman talking about the importance of doing good things in memory of Martin Luther King. Yes, we see the name “Do-Something” and we get the idea of what that group is about. But, the most important information is saved for last. “Who paid for this?” “Who are the nice people who brought this message into our classrooms?” Why it’s the wonderful soft drink company Pepsi.

Many commercials don’t say a thing about their product until you see their name or logo at the end. Commercials usually aren’t “hard sells” but rather 28 seconds of “feel good” images and sounds. Then at the last second they tie their product to the emotion that’s been generated. This is what Pepsi is doing. This is an ad for Pepsi. Ms. Harris is a marketer. She knows what is happening.

Stop the junk food and junk drink ads, Ms. Harris. These are harmful to the captive audience of students that pay your big salary. Also, combining this MLK Day message with a Pepsi sponsorship is demeaning to the memory of Martin Luther King. You think everything can be tied-in to an advertisement. I think a new wave of cancellations will help you understand that you may be wrong.