On April 6 2017, CNN published an article explaining why Madonna understands a little something about pulled Pepsi commercials:
In 1989, she starred in a Pepsi commercial that was pulled because of controversy over the music video for Like A Prayer, which featured burning crosses and showed Madonna kissing a black actor portraying a saint.
She reminded the world of this bit of pop culture history Wednesday when she posted on Instagram about the disastrous Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner.
“When you wake up and realize that SHIT just really doesn’t make sense. Side Note: My Pepsi commercial was pulled 30 years ago because I was kissing a black saint! #ironic.”
On March 2 1989, Madonna’s “Make A Wish” commercial for Pepsi premiered during an episode NBC-TV’s The Cosby Show.
A teaser ad had begun airing in the week leading up to the prime-time reveal of the full two-minute spot, which promised viewers the first opportunity to hear Madonna’s new single, Like A Prayer. Unbeknownst to fans at the time, the teaser featured a brief preview of the 12″ Club Version of the song (excluding any Madonna vocals).
An estimated 250 million viewers in over 40 countries tuned in to watch the only airing of “Make A Wish” – which marked the first time that a mainstream artist had launched a lead single in a promotional campaign before its official release to radio or MTV.
A brief but foretelling comment made by Madonna prior to the airing of the commercial was published in Rolling Stone magazine:
“I like the challenge of merging art and commerce. As far as I’m concerned, making a video is also a commercial. But the treatment for the video is a lot more controversial. It’s probably going to touch a lot of nerves in a lot of people. And the treatment for the commercial is…I mean, it’s a commercial. It’s very, very sweet. It’s very sentimental. The Pepsi spot is a great and different way to expose the record. Record companies just don’t have the money to finance that kind of publicity.”
The remark appeared to go conveniently unnoticed by the executives at Pepsi, who later claimed to have had no previous knowledge about the content of the Like A Prayer music video, despite the fact that it was already completed when the commercial was shot.
Banking on the buzz generated by the “Make A Wish” commercial, Sire Records issued the Like A Prayer single and its accompanying music video to radio and MTV the day after the commercial aired.
As for the ensuing controversy–that’s just another day in Madonna history.
On January 25, 1989, following eight months of negotiations, Pepsi announced that they had signed Madonna to a year-long endorsement contract, for which they would pay her $5 million. In return, Madonna would appear in a series of television commercials and Pepsi would sponsor the Like A Prayer World Tour, tentatively slated for later that year.
Pepsi was undaunted by Madonna’s image in the tabloids. “Her appeal is in her music and her acting. That’s where people’s interests are,” announced Pepsi spokesman Tod MacKenzie.
If the Like A Prayer World Tour had gone ahead as planned, do you think it would have been drastically different from Blond Ambition? What would have changed? Vogue and all the songs from Dick Tracy (or I’m Breathless) would have been omitted. What else?
On March 3 1989, Madonna’s Like A Prayer video premiered on MTV.
The music video, directed by Mary Lambert, portrayed Madonna as a witness to a murder of a white girl by white supremacists. While a black man is arrested for the murder, Madonna hides in a church for safety seeking strength to go forth as a witness.
On January 25, 1989, Madonna signs a $5 million contract with Pepsi-Cola for a series of TV commercials and sponsorship of a world tour.