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Pepsi Drops Ads with Madonna

April 4, 1989 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Pepsi-Cola Co. said Tuesday it had dropped plans to run more Pepsi ads featuring Madonna and her song ″Like a Prayer″ following complaints and boycott threats sparked by religious imagery in a music video for the song.

Pepsi took the unusual step even though the soft drink maker had no connection with the music video, which some groups found sacrilegious.

It was the latest in a recent series of examples of how corporations increasingly are bowing to pressure from consumers and religious activists over corporate sponsorship of programs the critics deem objectionable.

Spokesman Tod MacKenzie said Pepsi was hearing from consumers who confused the song and video, complaining to Pepsi about the music video because they thought it was Pepsi’s commercial.

″It’s an unfortunate situation,″ he said.

The Pepsi commercial featuring Madonna was run only twice in the United States in early March. It debuted March 2 as part of an international premiere in which the ad aired in prime time in 40 countries on a single night and served to debut Madonna’s new song. It ran a second time on a late-night show March 3 and continues to run overseas.

Pepsi had planned to cut the two-minute version of the ad into shorter versions for replay here after Madonna’s song had a chance to climb the charts.

But in scrapping those plans, Pepsi joined several companies that have altered advertising plans after consumers made advertisers bear the brunt of their about the moral content of broadcasts.

Ralston Purina Co., Procter & Gamble Co., Tambrands Inc. and others recently either have cancelled ads or instructed their ad agencies not to buy more time on shows after consumers objected to the programs’ content.

The trend has alarmed some constitutional rights advocates who say advertisers are opening the door to even more activism by self-styled moral advocates and to self-censorship by programmers who may want to avoid a fight.

But Pepsi’s case is somewhat unique because it was blamed for something with which it was uninvolved.

The Pepsi ad featuring Madonna, titled ″Make a Wish,″ showed the singer posing as a woman watching an old home movie of her eighth birthday party.

The woman and the child traded places in the commercial with Madonna singing ″Like a Prayer″ and dancing in the street, in her old school hallway and in a church while the youngster browsed through the woman’s apartment.

Pepsi said it created the ad without ever seeing the music video that accompanied the release of the new ″Like a Prayer″ single.

The music video, released a day after the ad ran, showed a woman assisting a man wrongly accused of a crime. In it, Madonna kisses a statue that comes to life, dances among burning crosses and is afflicted with cuts on her hand resembling the wounds Jesus Christ suffered during crucifixion.

A Mississippi-based religious group, the American Family Association, called on Pepsi to sever its ties with Madonna because of the imagery in the video. On March 10, it called for a one-year boycott of all Pepsi soft drinks. The group publishes a magazine with a circulation of 380,000.

Two weeks later, the Most Rev. Rene Gracida, bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas, called for a boycott of all Pepsi products in South Texas Catholic, a magazine distributed to more than 40,000 people. He said he acted after watching the music video and said he found the song to be sacrilegious.

Both boycotts were called off last week after Pepsi officials told the bishop and the AFA it planned to discontinue using the singer in its ads.

The Rev. Donald Wildmon of the AFA said Pepsi also planned to withdraw its sponsorship of a Madonna concert tour, but Pepsi had no comment on that. Pepsi reportedly paid Madonna about $5 million under a one-year contract that included commercials and the tour.

Liz Rosenberg, a publicist for Madonna at Warner Bros. Records, said the singer had no comment on Pepsi’s action.

Marty Blackman, head of a New York-based consulting firm that advises businesses on use of celebrities, said Pepsi should have known Madonna would prove controversial.

″I think an error was made that could have been prevented,″ he said. ″This was a personality controversial enough that you know you have to do your homework, your research and it wasn’t done.″

But Jesse Meyers, who publishes Beverage Digest in Grrenwich, Conn., said he found it sad that any group can ″dictate to a consumer goods company what they can and can’t do.″