There are few better examples of extreme cultural differences than Japan vs. the Western world. While it’s entirely possible for Westerners to appreciate and enjoy Japanese pop culture — Japanese cartoons and comic books, for example, have enjoyed ever-growing popularity in the West since the ’80s — sometimes we come across something that just defies our understanding.
Pepsiman was Pepsi’s Japanese spokescritter around the turn of the millennium. The character was created as the eponymous hero of a video game that transcended mere product placement — it was literally a playable advertisement for Pepsi products and branding.
That wasn’t the only strange thing about the Pepsiman game.
- Despite distribution limited to Japan, the video game was entirely in English, with Japanese subtitles.
- On a normal video game, there are often “cutscenes” between each level — like a little movie that forwards the game’s story in some way. On Pepsiman, the cutscenes were actual commercials.
- The commercials had no discernible connection to the game’s story (such as it was).
- They featured an obese white male who, through the course of the commercials, appeared to be attempting suicide by soda with his nearly exclusive Pepsi diet.
But the PR train didn’t stop with the video game, oh no. Pepsiman was a full-blown campaign on multiple channels. There were TV commercials so insane, we spent way too long trying to figure out how to describe them. We gave up, so here’s a YouTube compilation.
If you dared watch the video, you may have noticed there was a Pepsiwoman as well. When a young girl calls her “Pepsiman,” she corrects the speaker by shaking her breasts at her. She’s last seen stripper-dancing next to a half-dozen adolescent girls.
Then again, recent Pepsi campaigns in the West have notably centered on such celebrity endorsers as Paula Patton, Sofia Vergara, and Beyoncé. While these campaigns have as much potential to be exploitative, the argument could be made that they’re less overtly trashy.
We suspect a good deal of Pepsiman’s popularity comes from his tragic ineptitude at anything but (somehow) making Pepsi appear. Every commercial ends with the hapless creature suffering from some self-inflicted injury — a trend that was continued with the toy line.
Look — we know it was the ’90s, and that the ’90s were a different time — we were there. But even that doesn’t explain the character’s design. Why does a faceless, soda-themed golem need to wear a silver chain around its neck?
Of greater concern to us: How is it possible that the man responsible for Pepsiman’s design was Travis Charest? A comics artist, Charest took on penciling (illustration) duties in the mid- to late ’90s for a comic book called WildC.A.T.S. — a book already famous for incredible artwork by one of the industry’s biggest stars. Charest elevated the book from the best the industry had to offer, to every panel being art gallery worthy.
How did this artist – known for intricate, detailed artwork that fairly exploded with kinetic energy – create Pepsiman?
We’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt and suppose there was a blend of executive interference and artistic indifference.
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