From Bowie to Britney, here are the best Pepsi ads of all time.
Soda goes flat fast. The best soda commercials, however, stay bubbly-pop-fresh for generations. Pepsi arguably leads the pack, having invested record-breaking sums in splashy campaigns and moments that delight well beyond their expiration dates. And while secret formulas vary, a key ingredient tends to be the musical megastar — Bad Bunny being only the latest addition to Pepsi’s deep and storied bench. Debating all the best spots could take eons, so here in no particular order are ten refreshing standouts from the Pepsi canon that, for our lunch money, warrant repeat tastings. (Glory be unto YouTube!)
“You’ve Got The Right One, Baby… Uh-Huh!”, Ray Charles (1991)
Classy points off the bat for giving national treasure Charles the prime time spotlight, replete with rollicking Duke Ellington-style sophistication and a Prince-worthy trio who were not the actual Raylettes but filled the heels. Even better, this Diet Pepsi campaign was a smash, buried in ad industry awards and popularity polls. Ray Charles owns the rare and deserved distinction of being a pitchman for both Pepsi and their longtime rival (in the ‘60s), but this high-energy tune and its rhythmic catchphrase were next-level irresistible across the culture, with no bad aftertaste to this day.
“More Than Okay,” Steve Carell, Lil Jon, and Cardi B (2019)
Are puppies okay? ? Sure. And anyone with a big enough checkbook could book these stars. The challenge is exceeding the sum of those parts and Team Pepsi nailed that zeitgeist-capturing three pointer, no net, thanks to a comedic concept that blended reality (i.e., Pepsi’s candid acknowledgement of being the cola category challenger brand) with pop-magical reality (e.g., the invariably delightful Cardi B and her bejeweled Pepsi can with matching nails, anyone?). More than “Okurrrr,” the endearing execution — grounded by Steve Carell’s pitch-perfect everyman indignation — merits genuine laughs. And Cardi’s “I Like It” track sonically punctuates the effort for extra stickiness.
“Just One Look,” Cindy Crawford (1992)
Red Lamborghini. White tank top. Blue Daisy Dukes. Pepsi mines USA heartland gold with another classic recording (Doris Troy’s swooning 1963 R&B hit) even if this is a spot plenty of folks happily watched with the sound off. Indeed, perhaps much of why this seminal Pepsi ad has aged so well is that eye-candy star Ms. Crawford aged even better — as exhibited in many subsequent recreations and tributes, including a send-up with James Corden that debuted to much laughter and buzz after 2016’s Super Bowl. Delicately catwalking the line between lascivious head-turning and wholesome, family-friendly entertainment is not as easy as it looks, and this original managed to wink and nod its way into America’s pop-culture heart at the pinnacle of supermodel fever.
“Security Camera,” Featuring Hank Williams’ ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ (1996)
Ah, the delicious less-is-more power of a great idea. No special effects. No dialogue. No edits. No stars. No frills. Pairing the poignant, heart-tugging twang of country music’s defining standard with a single, grainy, black-and-white security camera shot hysterically capturing a hapless competitor delivery guy’s moment of infidelity in reaching for a Pepsi, served up some exemplary commercial-crafting. The comedy, of course, is key, but showcasing Williams’ plaintive masterpiece (recorded shortly before his untimely death) also shows timeless taste.
“Pepsi Freestyle,” The Notorious B.I.G. (2020)
Check your indignation. Refreshingly, no slick, corporate-scripted AI audio trickery here. As it happened, mere weeks before his tragic murder in 1997, 23-year-old Brooklyn phenom Christopher Wallace strolled into Manhattan’s legendary D&D Studios on West 37th Street for a session with DJ Enuff and spit out a tight freestyle professing evidently authentic affection for Pepsi. That excavated track gets blended with a quaintly lo-fi animated tribute to Biggie’s Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy environs and a nod for his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. Posthumously adding the Notorious B.I.G. to Pepsi’s glorious pop pantheon in a respectful, tasteful way? Pretty juicy.
“Simply Irresistable,” Robert Palmer (1989)
What’s most irresistible and enduring about this ultra-80s gem is how nearly nothing had to be changed from the existing and iconic Robert Palmer video template. With a few slight tweaks, hit video and song meld seamlessly into a big splashy Pepsi pitch. Dashing, dapper, monochromatic Palmer performs straight to camera backed by his very colorful if uniformly Patrick Nagel-illustration-looking model ladies — gyrating with more caffeinated coordination than their stock Euro-aloof posing moves. It’s like a forgotten Swatch watch in the back of your dresser. Still works fine. Still looks great.
“The Joy of Pepsi,” Britney Spears (2001)
Of all the Top 40 titans signed to mega Pepsi deals, could any have been more custom-cut for the mission than All American™ Disney-veteran Britney? Spears broke through boy band mania with full spectrum demographic appeal, stirring even genial grandpa and former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole (in a 2002 Super Bowl version). Here was choreographed blond ambition on full blast — yet unlike pop stars before her, Britney also registered as a genuine, soda-drinking girl next door. In this spot, Pepsi staffers break out into pumping musical set pieces around their pop princess leader. And while Britney’s toned abs set hearts and grills aflame, her goofy smiles suggest sweet obliviousness to anything impure.
“We Will Rock You,” Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Pink, and Enrique Iglesias (2004)
Well before Barbie, these three queens went pre-medieval on the patriarchy, rousing the masses and freeing the Pepsi to the infectious beat of Queen’s invincible angel-dust-for-stadiums anthem. Shot-for-shot, it’s masterful filmmaking. Vocally, it’s probably as balanced a showcase as possible. But the iconic assemblage of diva star power is what’s most unforgettable. Imagining the effort (and cost) required for Team Pepsi to summon this fearless sisterhood of the traveling swords and sandals feels even more improbable two decades later. Evil emperor Enrique Iglesias proves a good sport while Brian May and Roger Taylor slip in for a cameo. Intentionally or otherwise, they collectively rocked the most viscerally feminist soda commercial of all time.
“Sound Check,” Shakira (2002)
The cute, wide-eyed, hesitant little kid sharing a moment (and soda) with the larger-than-life (but of course really just-like-us) star they worship has been a ubiquitous genre staple since at least “Mean” Joe Greene’s menacing stare was disarmed in a dark corridor. Transcending the cliche, then, is a tall order — yet Shakira really put her hips and acting chops into this one (not every soda-selling pop star can sell dialogue). The spot lets her display a winning accessibility alongside a more credibly power chord-riffing indie rock side of her considerable musical range. All while Pepsi, once again, is the magical elixir that takes our collective inner child past the velvet rope — not only into the sold out show but onto the stage where pop ecstasy is made.
“Creation,” David Bowie and Tina Turner (1987)
On the surface, we have a hyper-80s soda pop music video mashing up a subtly modified version of Bowie’s “Modern Love” with an unsubtly Zemekisian Weird Science homage. Buttoned-up, lab engineer-nerd Bowie accidentally spills Pepsi onto his steampunk computer lab’s main server and, voila, out bursts a real live Tina Turner to rock his world. A little cringe? Beneath Saint Bowie? Well, think (and watch) again. On a deeper, Da Vinci Code-level, this creation stands as a postmodern love letter to possibly the greatest and most deserved artist comeback of all time. Lifelong friend Bowie leveraged mainstream clout to steer the music biz spotlight back on Turner, as she would gratefully detail in her memoir. The rest is glorious pop herstory. Cheers to that happy ending!