Pepsi Relarns Hard Lesson of Using Scandal-Ridden Celebrities

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Don't name a building or street after a dignitary unless said dignitary is dead, according to an unspoken rule among city governments. Dead men don't tell tales _ and, usually, they don't get involved in many scandals.

But living ones? That's another story _ and one that Pepsico is learning, once again, the hard way. With its dumping of tormented pop star Michael Jackson as a spokesman this weekend, the soft drink maker joins the ranks of corporations trying to distance themselves from scandal-ridden celebrities.

"It's a constant area of debate in advertising. You want to take advantage of a popular person, so that their popularity rubs off on your brand, but with it goes a risk," said Jack Raskopf, who teaches several advertising courses as associate professor of journalism at Texas Christian University.

"You can't predict their (celebrities') behavior."

Even when public figures merely voice unpopular positions, they may end up losing endorsements. k.d. lang, Magic Johnson and Martina Navratilova all lost endorsement contracts after stories relating to their sexual behavior surfaced, even though they were not involved in scandals.

Pepsi seems to have particularly bad luck. Several years ago, it lost a bundle when it paid several million bucks to Madonna for a campaign that never got off the ground because of criticism that her "Like a Prayer" video was sacrilegious. It also weathered a mini-storm in the early '80s when Jackson's hair caught on fire while filming a Pepsi spot. …