The Real Reason Pepsi's Madonna Ad Was So Controversial

The real reason Pepsi's Madonna ad was so controversial

Back in 1989, Madonna was, arguably, at the height of her fame. She saturated the marketplace and every form of media, influencing both adults and kids alike. Realizing that kids were the future of their brand, Pepsi capitalized on Madonna's increasing influence by scooping her up as a celebrity endorser. The soda giant paid Madonna and her camp a reported $5 million to star in a commercial, set to the music of her brand-new song, "Like a Prayer." They also sponsored her tour, according to Better Marketing.

But, nothing is simple when Madonna is involved. Pepsi learned that the hard way when the official music video for "Like a Prayer" dropped just one day after their wholesome feel-good commercial. The commercial, as you can see on YouTube, was set to the song and featured lots of happy, dancing people and a nostalgic Madonna telling a little girl (presumably, Madonna as a child) to "make a wish" before sipping an ice-cold Pepsi.

One can assume that the powers-that-be over at Coca-Cola, Pepsi's biggest competitor, really enjoyed what happened next.

The problems with the "Like a Prayer" video

According to ET, the Pepsi commercial first aired during the 31st annual Grammy Awards ceremony, with roughly 250 million watching the TV spot worldwide. Unfortunately, the fanfare died down pretty quickly, when Madonna's "Like a Prayer" music video was released the next day. 

If you've never seen it, you can relive the controversial content from the video on YouTube. Per Showbiz CheatSheet, Madonna can be seen in the video at a church where she encounters a "Black Jesus" statue. It comes alive and they kiss, because, why not? There is a field of burning crosses prominently featured, and she also dances freely in front of an incredibly talented gospel choir. Suffice it to say, the video became intertwined with Pepsi's commercial, and the damage to the Pepsi brand was done. The visual angered the Vatican so much that Pope John Paul II issued a statement, per Billboard. According to The Washington Post, Mississippi-based organization American Family Association also called for a Pepsi boycott.

Although Pepsi immediately dropped her like a hot potato, Madonna still raked in success from the "Like a Prayer" single. It was her seventh song to hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, remaining at the top for three weeks (via Billboard). Today, 30-plus years later, people still remember the video that certainly improved her career, if not her relationship with Pepsi.