The Michael Jackson Ads That Made Former Pepsi CEO Roger Enrico A Marketing Legend

Enrico, who passed away on June 1, created “the choice of a new generation” and modern pop culture marketing.


Today, it’s everywhere. Celebrities endorsing brands, brands integrating themselves into pop culture through film, TV, music, and social media. But in the early 1980s, this was all new, untapped territory. And that’s when Pepsi bought the biggest pop star in the world.


The man behind the deal, former Pepsi CEO Roger Enrico, died on June 1 at the age of 71. It was Enrico who signed Jackson to a $5 million deal in 1983 to be the face of Pepsi’s “choice of a new generation” marketing campaign, which became so popular that it forced Coke to alter its formula in a desperate move to seem progressive. And we all know how New Coke went down–as one of the biggest product and marketing failures of all time.

Roger Enrico of PepsiCo shakes hands with Michael Jackson at a press conference.Photo: Lynn Goldsmith, Corbis, VCG via Getty Images

Jesse Kornbluth, who cowrote Enrico’s 1986 book The Other Guy Blinked: How Pepsi Won the Cola Wars, wrote this week in the Huffington Post about the cultural impact those Jackson ads, that 97% of the American public “watched them at least a dozen times.”

It didn’t hurt that the ad was an adaptation of Jackson’s hit song “Billie Jean,” changing the chorus to “You’re the Pepsi generation/Guzzle down and taste the thrill of the day/And feel the Pepsi way.” Oh, and the mystery and controversy around the accident on set of that first ad that burned Michael Jackson’s scalp only added to its popularity.

In a way, Enrico launched a new era in modern marketing, a version of which we’re still living in, where brands crave, scrap, fight, and create to become part of pop culture.

Check out five of Pepsi’s top Michael Jackson ads from the Enrico era, in the slide show above.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.