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Pepsi Max Test Drive. New hit, old recipe ?

March 14, 2013 at 8:31 by Laurent Comments

Another test. Another prank.

With already 7M views in 2 days, you probably already watched it. But what does it tell ?

First, enjoy it if you haven’t seen it yet.

I bet you reacted positively. I did. But we will come back to that later.

Hidden camera-practical jokes are almost as old as video entertainment. It seems TV producers and advertisers have found an inexhaustible vein which provides striking visual content, with a high and timeless popularity potential.

Candid Camera appeared in 1948 on ABC. One year later its summer series was sponsored by Philip Morris. The show involved ordinary people most of the time, but also celebrities. Like in Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d which first aired on MTV 55 years later, in 2003. I’m sure that wherever you live, there is at least one prank TV show airing on your local networks. And it is probably successful.

In 1983 Folgers coffee was probably one of the very first brand to integrate hidden cameras as an advertising asset

I won’t name the all list of commercials/advertising videos which used this mechanism since then. It would be too long. No further than two days ago we were mentioning some in this article on the last Carlsberg stunt.

Recently a brand and a tv show got successful by using the same elements : an elevator and common fear.

LG’s scary monitors reached 18M views to date on the initial video :

The “Ghost Girl” prank from the Brazilian variety show Programa Silvio Santos reached 62M views on this single video to date (some others display more than 23M)

I won’t challenge the numbers. These pranks are a complete success. But this raises questions. Is the simple surprise effect no longer enough ? Is there a cynical, sometimes morbid risk of escalation ? And for which benefit ?

Now let’s go back to the Pepsi test drive. Humour is a personal matter and is very subjective. Let me share my own experience. I got stuck into it. Speechless until I burst into laughter. And I guess I am not the only one. Why ? Because it plays with emotional reflex, conditional responses. Fear is good. We are all, more or less, addicted on adrenalin. Thrill rides, horror movies, we enjoy them because they provide some safe shoots of adrenalin. I won’t take the risk to analyse it, I don’t have the skills for that. But it just makes me think of a paradox described by Freud : the duality of human nature, which would emerge from two basic instincts : Eros and Thanatos. Eros would be the drive toward life (fun), Thanatos the drive toward death (danger). Less analytical, I believe we really enjoy taking the piss out of other people. This kind of pranks just mix all these elements. And this is why they work.

But at the end of the day, what does it tell about Pepsi ? Will people even remember it was Pepsi behind it ? I have read some articles about the video. They all agree it is a lot of fun. Period.  I couldn’t find anything else. No message. I figured out Jeff Gordon is disguised, and it refers to the drink benefit : a zero calories cola in disguise…

Maybe it is not that important. Maybe the brand has no other ambition than entertain. Which is ok regarding its positioning. And if so, it is a success.

I am just sometimes a little bit concerned, that flirting with some of our basic instincts such as voyeurism, or blood lust in a meaningless way might be a high price to pay eventually. Brands and agencies should pay attention to the competition they have entered. If they want to fully control the risks of an accident, they need comedians. If they use comedians, the odds are it won’t work. There will always be a brand or an agency to outdo what has already been done. What would be the acceptable limit ? Which one will drift ?

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