-- You're not in a time warp. That isMichael Jackson showing up in a Pepsi commercial on tonight's debut of The X Factor.
Clearly, the cola wars are bubbling over to the reality TV talent show wars. Pepsi is circling back to its musical marketing roots by sponsoring X Factor, while Coke is sticking with its sponsorship of reigning champ American Idol for an 11th consecutive season.
When X Factor airs tonight on Fox, Pepsi will broadcast 60-second and 30-second ads reminiscent of its celebrity-laden spots from the 1990s. The ads feature footage of superstars from past Pepsi ads, including Jackson, Britney Spears, Kanye West, Mariah Carey and even Ray Charles.
The ads also feature a hooded, mystery singer who snatches a Pepsi before heading on stage. That image makes it very clear that Pepsi is looking for the next superstar to feature in its spots. Earlier this month, Pepsi announced that this season's X Factor winner will not only land a $5 million recording contract, but also appear in a 2012 Pepsi Super Bowl spot.
This marks a major change in direction for Pepsi marketing, which had steadily moved away from pop stars. In separate ads that direct viewers to its Facebook page, Pepsi also will feature Glee's Kevin McHale, who gives insider insights into the X Factor competition.
"I suppose we could call this Cola Wars II," says Robert Thompson, professor of TV and pop culture at Syracuse University. "The war to end all cola wars."
It's a battle for market share and cultural mind share. Coke's market share was up 0.6 percentage points to 35% for the first half of 2011, while Pepsi's market share was down 0.01 percentage points to 32.9%, reports Beverage Digest. At the same time, Coke has amassed nearly three times as many media mentions as Pepsi over the last four years, according to research firm HighBeam Business.
"We're always up for some friendly competition," says Coke spokeswoman Kerry Tressler.
So, it's back to the future for Pepsi. "We've made a conscious decision to go aggressively back into music," says Frank Cooper, chief global consumer engagement officer at PepsiCo Beverages. "We have a rightful place in music."
Indeed, Pepsi's Jackson and Madonna ads from the 1980s and 1990s were each major events. But several years ago, Pepsi turned more socially conscious and went heavily digital with its Pepsi Refresh campaign.
Now, Pepsi's back re-embracing music. The cola brand makes that abundantly clear at the end of the ad with this new slogan: "Where there's Pepsi, there's music."