PepsiCo Inc. is resurrecting Michael Jackson to try to pump life into its flagship cola, three years after the singer's death and more than a quarter-century after the pop icon's landmark sponsorship deal to become the voice of the brand.
Following an agreement with Mr. Jackson's estate, the beverage and snack giant said Thursday it will roll out a billion Pepsi cans with a silhouette of Mr. Jackson -- who died in 2009 -- as part of its newly launched 'Live For Now'' global marketing campaign.
PepsiCo and Mr. Jackson's estate declined to disclose the financial terms of the latest deal. Mr. Jackson signed onto a Pepsi sponsorship deal in 1984 for a then-record $5 million.
The new campaign is part of PepsiCo's pledge to ramp up spending on its flagship cola, which has been losing ground behind archrival Coca-Cola Co.
PepsiCo is boosting its overall marketing budget this year by as much as $600 million, or by about 20%. The extra money is going to a dozen large global brands, which also include Lay's potato chips, Gatorade sports drinks and Quaker oatmeal. The company has been pouring more funds into Pepsi, its biggest brand by revenue, since last year.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Jackson's estate said the PepsiCo campaign represents the first branding deal since Mr. Jackson's death, but that more such marketing agreements are planned.
Mr. Jackson starred in several Pepsi advertising spots in the 1980s and 1990s, including an infamous commercial shoot in 1984 that inadvertently set the King of Pop's hair on fire, burning his scalp. Pepsi's new campaign around Mr. Jackson is timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of 'Bad,'' the multi-platinum album.
PepsiCo said it would begin distributing the special-edition cans in China this weekend. The cans will arrive on U.S. store shelves later this month, part of a broader rollout to about 20 other countries in Asia, South America and Europe.
Bringing a deceased celebrity back from the dead for marketing purposes is a risky business.
It's like the dead is dancing to sell your product,' said Scott Lerman, chief executive officer of Lucid Brands, a branding firm.
In 2007, ConAgra Foods Inc. reincarnated its company spokesman, Orville Redenbacher, who had died in 1995. It ran a commercial that featured a computer-generated version of Mr. Redenbacher, who had gotten a modern makeover. Pundits dubbed the character 'Orville Deadenbacher.' An ad critic for Ad Age, an industry trade magazine, called the posthumous pitchman: 'Madison Avenue's first pitchzombie.'
Dead icons also can create enormous buzz. Earlier this year, a digital version of the late musician Tupac Shakur appeared on stage during a music festival with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. An Internet video of the show became an instant phenomenon.
Frank Cooper, a senior PepsiCo marketing executive, said the Pepsi campaign is respectful toward Mr. Jackson and more 'forward looking'' than nostalgic by celebrating the pop legend's continuing influence on music.
Mr. Jackson remains highly popular across the globe, Mr. Cooper added.
That appeal is especially important in China, where Coke's namesake cola had a 26.9% share of the soda market last year, ahead of Pepsi's 19.0% share, according to Euromonitor International.
In its efforts to narrow that gap, PepsiCo in March secured Chinese government approval for a joint venture with Tingyi Holding Corp., a leading beverage player in China.
Coke said last year it would invest $4 billion over the next three years in the country.
PepsiCo is launching a TV ad in China featuring music from Mr. Jackson's 'Bad'' album later this month, but hasn't decided yet if it will run similar ads in the U.S. It's launching a TV commercial in the U.S. next week featuring singer Nicki Minaj.
By marrying its cola with famous musicians, Pepsi is returning to its marketing roots. Aside from Mr. Jackson, previous Pepsi pitchmen have included Ray Charles, Madonna and Britney Spears.
It recently invested an estimated $60 million to sponsor 'The X Factor,'' a TV music-talent show launched in the U.S. last autumn, to compete with 'American Idol,'' which Coke sponsors. A Pepsi TV ad that premiered last year on 'The X Factor'' featured a clip of Mr. Jackson after a long hiatus.
This year Pepsi quietly pulled the plug on its 'Refresh'' campaign, an online social-media campaign, where consumers competed for money to fund favorite charities. Critics said it didn't help sell more Pepsi.
In addition to the cans with Mr. Jackson's silhouette, PepsiCo is teaming up with musicians and producers to reinterpret some of the singer's songs, part of a broader digital campaign. It also promises 'epic, live events'' tied to Mr. Jackson in the coming months.