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Pepsi pulls online commercial for Mountain Dew after critics label it 'racist'

(May 1, 2013) A 60-second commercial for PepsiCo's Mountain Dew brand was pulled by the company after a barrage of criticism including one commentator who labeled it "the most racist commercial in history." The trade publication Adweek broke the story on Wednesday which set off a media firestorm.

The spot was the third in an episodic series created for Mountain Dew by hip-hop impresario Tyler the Creator. The central character in each spot is Felicia the Goat, whose "bad boy persona is a male voice that says at the ends of each commercial, "You're never gonna catch me." In the second installment the goat assaults a waitress after she tells him they're out of Mountain Dew. In the second chapter, Felicia evades capture from the police.

The third spots depicts the goat in a police station line-up with five other black men, the blonde victim from the restaurant assault and officers edging her to identify her attacker. While it may look like a sketch from the Dave Chappelle show, the ever present bottle of Mountain Dew held by the detective signals that we're suppose view this as a comedic commercial. Plenty of viewers saw more than that.

Scenes from the third "Felicia the Goat" commercial

"This ad has to be one of the most irresponsible pieces of trash in the history of corporate advertising," wrote HuffingtonPost contributor Dr. Boyce Watkins, Finance Professor at Syracuse University. His comments appeared on his Web site, Your Black World Coalition. "This is arguably the most racist commercial in history."

The commercial has earned Pepsi unwanted notoriety as the latest company to suffer ill-conceived corporate messages that attempt to gain "street cred" and consumers' attention by hiring the creative skills of those outside of the advertising agency mainstream to produce ads.

Pepsi executives pulled the third installment and issued a two-sentence statement. "We apologize for this video and take full responsibility. We have removed it from all Mountain Dew channels, and Tyler is removing it from his channels, as well."

Another industry observer told USA Today Pepsi should offer more than an apology. "Given their poor record of marketing to African Americans, and the hundreds of millions blacks spend with the company, there needs to be an investigation and a plan that is made public on how this will be avoided in the future," says Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, a research company that monitors developments in African-American marketing and media.

Christian Clancy, manager for Tyler the Creator issued statements saying the producer's work was misunderstood. "We apologize if this was taken out of context and would never trivialize racism, especially now in America where voting and civil rights are being challenged at the highest level. I can however stand firmly by someone I have believed in since we met, only because I know him and I know all of this was never his intent."

It's not known what actions PepsiCo will take to address the issues the commercial has raised, but one avenue will not be available to them. A multicultural advisory council the company established to hear the concerns and insights of Black leaders was disbanded last year.

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