Pepsi has been a mainstay advertiser in music, often working with big-name acts Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, and the before them, Michael Jackson. Now, it’s taking a twist as subtle as opening one of their soft drink bottles by using a fictional character that’ll be featured in the TV series Empire, AdAge reports.
Pepsi will go beyond product placement by playing a focal part in a three-episode arc that began with last night’s episode and will conclude with the mid-season finale on Dec. 2.
The show involves turmoil and struggle with a powerful record company called Empire Entertainment and an up-and-coming musician named Jamal Lyon (who happens to be the son of CEO Lucious). In this story arc, Jamal competes with other musicians to become the new face for the Pepsi brand. Eventually, he’ll win the spot by recording the original ad song “Ready To Go.”
The ad itself, a 60-second commercial directed by Empire co-creator Lee Daniels, will debut on Dec. 2 as well during an awards nomination ceremony. But there’s a clever twist: Instead of simply featuring it in the program, Fox will cut away for commercial time, air the ad, and then return back to the show. There’s also potential for the ad to run elsewhere, but Jussie Smollett (the actor who plays Jamal) will be featured as himself instead of his on-screen persona.
Interestingly, Pepsi was the one pitched for the integration, instead of the other way around, according to Toby Byrne, president of ad sales for Fox Networks Group. It must have felt like an ideal fit, seeing as how celebrities are often asked to do endorsements. “The integration works because it works for the show,” he explained. “The storyline is true to the show. We made a great effort to make sure this particular storyline is natural and not overly commercial.”
Emily Silver, vice president of marketing for PepsiCo’s North American division, feels that it’s a “truly authentic integration of life imitating art,” which is “a breakthrough for us and for the industry.”
Byrne added, “This is taking a brand integration to a new, progressive execution. It shows what is possible when you engage the best creative minds and bring them all together.”
As for why Empire was a decisive choice, the answer was clear, according to Silver, since it is the “hottest show on TV, attractive to all demographics and music-focused, which is a very important plank for Pepsi.”
In an age where more companies try to find a way around ad-blocking services and “fast-forwarding” through commercials, it appears that Pepsi has found a way to feature its product in a natural and unobtrusive way. Don’t be surprised if other brands follow suit.