Pepsi Commercial with Chinese Monks as Art
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Everyone is familiar with the red and blue, ying and yang like Pepsi logo that promises a sweet dark cola is less than a dollar away. The Pepsi commercials of the past 20 years have defined a “new generation” and their savvy, celebrity infused adverts have become a part of our visual vocabulary. In his 1972 book Ways of Seeing, John Berger states that, “Advertising is the culture of the consumer society. It propagates through images that society’s belief in itself. There are several reasons why these images use the language of oil painting.” (page 133)
In 2007 Pepsi created a commercial in which a young, novice monk joins a temple, somewhere deep in mountains of a mystical Chinese landscape. The young boy begins by knocking on an oppressively large door with a mysterious symbol. The door is answered by a shaolin-like Chinese monk who has this same mysterious symbol on his forehead. He invites the young boy into the temple and the boy notices that everyone in the temple has the same mark on their forehead. We then see this new initiate having his head shaved and he begins training in kung-fu. The head monk is disappointed time and again as the young novice fails at his set tasks. A second later we see the boy has now grown into a young man and his years of diligent training are now fruitful.
We see the young man breaking bricks, doing sideways flips, and breaking ceramic columns, but he still doesn’t have the matching marks on his forehead. Finally the other monks, after a choreographed tai-chi dance, begin to meditate over a can of Pepsi. As the monk meditates over his can of Pepsi he notices that the opening mechanism on top of the can is the same shapes as those on all the other monks foreheads. He then smashes his head down onto the can successfully flattening it. When he raises his head, we see that he has now finally has completed his initiation and has the identical marks on his forehead. The head monk smiles as the rest of monks surround the new initiate cheering; he has finally been accepted as one of their own. The commercial ends with the other monks embracing the new monk with the word “ASK FOR MORE” floating above the temple.
The direction of this commercial is brilliant, and invites us into the landscape and scenario the same way atmospheric perspective can invite us into a painting. No dialogue is used during the commercial only the sound of a Gehu, a traditional Chinese instrument, making the message more universal by relying only images to convey the meaning. The message is clear, everyone wants to achieve and be accepted by others, and Pepsi can help us reach those goals. Pepsi is part of our journey. The young-boy and young-man are both played by average-looking Americans, trying to find their way in this mysterious Asian world. Thus, we can easily identify with this journey and even imagine ourselves in their place. The director uses dark clouds when the young novice is having difficulty in training and bright sunny skies when he has an epiphany about the mysterious symbol. Therefore the director is using light and color to convey meaning the same way a painter uses these tools to convey a meaning on canvas. This one-minute commercial clearly tells a story of Buddhist transformation that, for most Americans, has become the archetype of Chinese culture. The juxtaposition of the words “ask for more” at the end of the advert above a Buddhist temple is the directors’ ironic way of meshing these two very different worlds together.
In conclusion, the art of advertising and commercials is always ephemeral. Like viewing a piece of performance art the only images that remain years later is our memory of it or a snap-shot from the past. Berger states, “One may remember or forget these messages but briefly one takes them in, and for a moment they stimulate the imagination by way of either memory or expectation. The advert image belongs to the moment.” (page 123) In the same degree that our art history is what remains from the past. Some artists are forgotten, others are re-discovered years later. In the future an archeologist may look at our Pepsi commercials to help define American culture of the late 20th century.
- Berger, John (1972). Ways of Seeing. London, Penguin books 1972 (pages 123 and 133)
- The Pepsi commercial can viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40DykbPa4Lc