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Jun 25, 2020 | 4 min read

How to Go Viral: Pepsi’s “Gladiator”

Digital Marketing

A rockstar marketing strategy doesn’t need to use literal rock stars — but as Pepsi showed us, it definitely doesn’t hurt.

In 2004 Pepsi “rocked” the marketing world with an epic advertisement featuring Britney Spears, Beyonce, and P!nk as gladiators who cast down their armor in favor of a classic Queen song and, of course, a Pepsi. The unconventional, star-studded advertisement didn’t take long to gain worldwide exposure and praise, and not just because of its all-star cast; the ad used its celebrities — positioning them in a story, creating a wholly unique rendition of a well-known song, and making the advertisement about more than just Pepsi. Created by agency BBDO, the ad tapped into the massive popularity of the three pop stars while also employing a few tried-and-true marketing strategies.

While most brands don’t have unlimited ad spend to shell out on celebrity endorsements, here’s how you can follow suit on a smaller scale with your next campaign:

Get Dramatic

You can’t get much more dramatic than gladiators, celebrities in armor — oh, and a lion casually entering the scene in the 11th hour. Pepsi sets us up to expect a fight between Britney Spears, P!nk, and Beyonce, a gripping narrative that draws viewers in from the get-go. Not only is the context dramatic, but the storyline is compelling enough (and the plot twist unexpected enough) to keep us watching ‘til the end.

Create a dramatic intro that immediately grabs your viewers’ attention — it doesn’t even have to have anything to do with your product or company! The key is to be memorable, and keep viewers enthralled from start to finish.

Use Brand Pulsing

Pepsi’s Gladiator ad really didn’t feature Pepsi as a key “character” or trope to advance the narrative. The heroes of the story are the three women and their stellar singing performances. Because the logo isn’t dominating the advertisement, the entertainment value is featured front and center with subtle branding woven in.

When you’re developing a concept — whether for an ad, a blog post, or a social campaign — ask yourself if the story would still work if you removed your brand from the narrative altogether. If it would, then you’re successfully using brand pulsing.

Make Sure There’s A Plot Twist

With so many brands vying for fans and followers in the digital space, it’s more important than ever to keep your content fresh and entertaining.

Britney Spears, Beyonce, and P!nk are diverse in musical style, which is likely why the trio was chosen for this Pepsi ad. Each performer brings her own exciting take to a tune viewers know well, actively surprising the listeners throughout the ad. The story itself follows a series of twists and turns, from the moment the singers forfeit their weapons to the transitions between each verse of the classic song. Even better, this ad appeals to each performer’s unique fan base, successfully broadening the ad’s reach to a variety of music fans.

Always End A Winner

The ad ends on a victorious note when the king is (quite literally) dethroned, and the “treasure” (Pepsi) given back to the people. Pepsi is established as an elixir of the everyman, a treasure that celebrities and viewers alike can enjoy.

Leave your audience feeling happy and empowered, so that they can connect that emotion to your brand. When creating your own branded content, remember that everyone loves a good narrative and a happy ending.

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