ANNAPOLIS – Pepsi officials yanked a television commercial filmed at the University of Maryland-College Park after school officials complained that it tarnished campus fraternities’ image and made light of alcohol abuse.
The ad depicts a male student, surrounded by a group of cheering friends, gulping a can of Pepsi One. Another sequence mocks a fraternity initiation ritual when a different student finishes a can of the soft drink and says, “Yes sir, may I have another please?”
After a weeklong run tied to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Pepsi officials pulled the ad March 25.
“We thought the commercial depicted stereotypes that were inconsistent with the work the University of Maryland has done with fraternity life,” said Terry Flannery, director of university marketing.
Among other things, the university moved fraternity rush week from fall to spring to prevent new students from being exposed to excessive drinking.
“Any kinds of allusions to binge drinking or alcohol abuse are stereotypes. The Greek system is known in the community for leadership and service,” Flannery said.
Pepsi spokesman David DeCecco said the company meant no offense and quickly offered to pull Maryland’s portion of the campaign. Similar commercials were filmed at two other schools – the University of Cinncinati and the University of Arizona. Those ads continued to run.
At the time the commercial was pulled, DeCecco said, it had only a few days left to run because the basketball tournament was almost over.
On Monday, the national championship was claimed by the University of Connecticut, which beat Duke University in the finals. St. John’s knocked Maryland out of the tournament in the semifinals of the South Regional division on March 18.
Fraternity leaders agreed that some parts of the commercial misrepresented the campus, especially the scene in which members guzzled the beverage “shotgun” style – poking a hole in the can, popping the top and sucking down the beverage quickly without a pause.
“It’s not that it doesn’t happen,” said Jeff Wang, president of the school’s Interfraternity Council. “It is just something that I wouldn’t want to see as the only thing representing the University of Maryland.”
Flannery said the commercial’s loosely defined concept allowed it to escape the university’s typical approval and monitoring process. Usually university officials attend filming and approve the script.
Canadian comedian Tom Green improvised much of the material and producers from BBDO of Manhattan directed other scenes that were not scripted.
The ad agency director ignored the university’s objections while the fraternity scene was being filmed, Flannery said. But Pepsi officials were more receptive to their concerns.
Last year, the university and Pepsi signed a 15-year, $58 million contract to help pay for scholarship and athletic department programs. In return, Maryland agreed to almost exclusively sell and advertise Pepsi products.
The contract had nothing to do with the commercial, except that Pepsi chose the College Park campus because of that friendly relationship. Pepsi also selected the school because the basketball team was the second seed in the NCAA tournament. The university received no compensation for allowing the commercial to be filmed on the campus.
Despite the flap, administration and student leaders agree that overall, the few moments in the limelight were good for the university. “I thought it was a step in the right direction for bringing the university national recognition,” Wang said.