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Pepsi MAX Gets Real
By: Jennifer Graber
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Early in 2013 Pepsi MAX released a commercial in which Jeff Gordon, a renowned NASCAR driver, took advantage of an unsuspecting car salesman. Gordon, literally, took the poor gentleman for a ride. The NASCAR legend was all decked out in disguise when he showed up to a dealership to test drive a vehicle. Gordon and the salesman climbed into the sports car and that is when the fun started — at least for Gordon. Much to the surprise of the salesman, this disguised test driver was a bit of a maniac. He took the car up to high speeds, made precarious turns, and ignored the pleas and insults of the salesman. In the end Gordon revealed his true identity and all was right with the world — or so it would seem.
Following the release of that initial commercial there was a select group of bloggers and car enthusiasts who claimed the Pepsi MAX commercial was, in fact, a big ole fake. Travis Okulski was one such individual, and he even broke down the commercial footage just to prove his point. Apparently, Gordon and Pepsi MAX were not exactly thrilled with the criticism of Okulski so they decided to get a bit of revenge on him. Gordon and Pepsi MAX joined forces with Okulski’s editor and a killer makeup artist.
The plot for revenge begins with the story of Okulski being invited to test drive a top secret 2015 Corvette — all lies. A cab picks up Okulski, driven of course by Gordon, and that is where the entertainment begins. Gordon, dressed as a jilted cabbie, takes the critical writer on a crazy ride. The cab gets pulled over by a policeman, which sends Gordon into a frenzy — he rants about not wanting to return to the prison life. Gordon then takes off in the cab with Okulski in tow. The writer begs him to stop driving or to let him out. In the end the brand’s prank is revealed to a shaken Okulski. Of course Pepsi MAX captured it all on video for the world to see. Okulski declares that he knows, with an absolute certainty, that this Pepsi MAX sequel is real — though he still doubts the realism of the first.
The brand did not necessarily change Okulski’s mind about the original Pepsi MAX commercial. It almost seems as if he did not even stop to think twice. But Pepsi had a little fun with one of its critics. However, is that appropriate for a brand to do? It all worked out and Okulski was good natured about the whole ordeal, but this is the type of stunt that could have gone horribly wrong. Brands have to be careful and strategic when taking on detractors. Every brand, in its life, will face cynicism and doubt. The brand should not necessarily provoke anything, but it has the right to respond — just as others have the right to criticize. This commercial sequel worked out in Pepsi MAX’s favor, but this type of stunt is not one to be recommended for regular use, mostly because it has safety concerns. Otherwise, brands and critics are free to stand up for themselves, showing the world that they are "not gonna take it anymore."


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About the Author
Jennifer Graber is a Business Development Manager and marketing enthusiast. Her specific interests include branding, consumer behavior, development, integrated marketing communications, and new & social media.
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