Pepsi is putting images of two dead music icons on its cans this summer, reaching back once again to its pop culture glory days in an effort to boost sagging sales. Michael Jackson and Ray Charles will front limited-edition packaging along with Britney Spears, who isn’t exactly in her prime (although to be fair, her recently concluded four-year Las Vegas residency concert was considered a major hit).
The cans continue the retro-heavy “Pepsi Generations” campaign that Pepsi kicked off earlier this year with a Super Bowl ad that included quick glimpses of classic Pepsi ads starring Spears and Jackson. A follow-up ad for Diet Pepsi included shots of Charles that harkened back to a 1990s-era spot when he sang “You got the right one baby” for the brand.
But putting the singers on cans ups the ante, while raising questions about much resonance the one-time mega stars have with younger consumers today.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Oh, they must be going for the older folks’—because the younger kids are drinking a lot less soda these days,” says Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco who studies millennial consumers.
But on the plus-side for Pepsi, “young people today kind of like the retro-chic stuff. Michael is iconic, Ray is iconic. And I guess by rubbing shoulders with them Pepsi becomes a little bit more iconic,” she adds. “It is calling out some of [Pepsi’s] shining moments, I suppose, and elevating the stature of the brand though association. But I don’t think that’s going to be enough.”