by Marion Nestle
Dec 18 2012

Let’s Ask Marion: Beyoncé’s Bubbly Branding Falls Flat

It’s been awhile since Kerry Trueman posed an “Ask Marion” question, but here’s her latest Q and my A  as posted on Civil Eats.

By  on 
Q. From the moment Beyoncé strapped on those silly stilettos to bounce around in the “Move Your Body” video, she’s been a wobbly spokesperson for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Campaign.” Now she’s signed a $50 million dollar deal with Pepsi, which will presumably entail her exhorting her millions of young fans to baste their bodies in bubbly high fructose corn syrup.

Apparently, she didn’t get the childhood obesity/diabetes epidemic memo. Do celebrities with Beyoncé’s massive influence on young kids have a moral obligation to consider the horrendous impact of excessive soda consumption in our culture when they mull over megabuck branding opportunities?

A.  From my privileged position as a tenured, full-salaried faculty member at NYU, the answer is an unambiguous yes. Beyoncé will now be marketing sugar-sweetened beverages, products increasingly linked to childhood obesity, especially among minority children.

This linkage is not a coincidence. Pepsi and other makers of sugary sodas deliberately and systematically market their products to low-income, minority children.

Beyoncé will now be part of that targeted marketing campaign.

If Beyoncé’s mission is to inspire young people of any color to look gorgeous and rise to the top, as she has done, she is now telling them that the way to get there—and to get rich—is to drink Pepsi. This untrue suggestion is, on its own, unethical.

Pepsi must think that getting this message out, and putting Beyoncé’s photo on its soda cans, is well worth $50 million.

For PepsiCo, $50 million is trivial. According to Advertising Age (June 2012), PepsiCo sold $66.5 billion worth of products in 2011, for a profit of $6.4 billion. Pepsi sales in the U.S. accounted for $22 billion of that.

PepsiCo’s total advertising budget funneled through advertising agencies, and therefore reportable, was $944 million. Of that amount, $196 million was used to market Pepsi alone. The rest went for Gatorade ($105 million), Mountain Dew ($23 million) and PepsiCo’s many other Quaker and Frito-Lay products.

One other relevant point: half of PepsiCo’s annual sales are outside the United States. Like other multinational food companies, it is focusing marketing efforts on emerging economies. This means that Beyoncé will also be pushing sugary drinks on people in developing countries. PepsiCo just spent $72 million to sponsor cricket tournaments in India, for example.

Fifty million dollars seems like an unimaginable amount of money to me. If PepsiCo offered it to me, I would have to turn it down on the grounds of conflict of interest. But this is easy for me to say, because the scenario is so unlikely.

What $50 million means for Beyoncé I cannot know. Some sources estimate her net worth at $300 million. If so, $50 million adds a substantial percentage. And the Pepsi deal will give her phenomenal exposure.

But from where I sit, Beyoncé has crossed an ethical line. She is now pushing soft drinks on the very kids whose health is most at risk. And her partnership with Pepsi will make public health measures to counter obesity even more difficult.

This is a clear win for Pepsi. And a clear loss for public health.

Beyoncé has now become the world’s most prominent spokesperson for poor diets, obesity and its health consequences, and marketing targeted to the most vulnerable populations.


  • First thing I thought when I saw this was, Oh no Beyonce. Based on what little I know of her, I thought she was better than this. I wonder if a campaign to dissuade her could get any traction?

  • brad

    I once attended a conference at Pepsico World Headquarters in Purchase, New York, and the first thing I noticed was that there was a cooler in every room full of Pepsi products, free for the taking. The second thing I noticed was that there were no drinking fountains anywhere: city water was considered part of the competition. The third thing I noticed was that Pepsico had built a running track on its campus and offered incentives to its executives to use it, because so many of them were overweight and in poor health.

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  • “Do celebrities with Beyoncé’s massive influence on young kids have a moral obligation to consider the horrendous impact of excessive soda consumption in our culture when they mull over megabuck branding opportunities?”

    Everyone has a moral obligation to consider the horrendous impact of excessive soda consumption, $50 Million paycheck or not.

  • I understood that beverages like Pepsi contained caffeine, and that’s bad enough. But what is your take on the other caffeinated foods like the latest move by Frito Lay to add caffeine to Cracker Jacks?

    My ex-husband worked for the Justice Department and he used to joke (maybe seriously, I don’t know) that “caffeine is the lowest rung on the speed ladder.”

    What are we doing to our kids and ourselves?


  • flawda


    How about ya’ll learn moderation and teach your kids moderation. Stop trying to pass the buck to celebrities, ya’ll are so predictable.

    You guys act as if ya’ll are rabbits, you eat nothing but greens and water huh. You sit here and judge people like ya’ll don’t consume things that are bad for you.

  • Very sad indeed.

    You’re missing the point here, flawda. I think everyone on here eats things they know they shouldn’t.

    But it’s irresponsible for someone with as much influence as Beyonce to help market unhealthy products to kids just because she got a fat paycheck. Whether they realize it or not, celebrities have a responsibility to set a positive example, and drinking more liquid calories is clearly exacerbating the already alarming obesity epidemic.

  • Joe

    Pepsi with the help of pop icon Beyonce pitches their product as fun, carefree, cool and hip. The public health message by comparison is laced with terms such as limit, restrict, eat less and give up all of which are far from hip and inviting.

    The dietary message of public health is old, stale and antiquated promoted by stodgy crumedgeon-like characatures that are ignored in favor of a svelt, cool, “in” pop diva.

    If those in public health want to make inroads in 2012-2013 they can’t play the game as though it is 1950. I appreciate the public health message, I work in public health after all. But to win hearts and minds you/we have to play in the game by their rules.

  • brad

    I agree 1,000% with Joe. But the devil is in the details: how exactly do we craft public health messages that are “fun, carefree, cool, and hip?” I don’t doubt that it can be done, but I’d like to see some examples. Usually this kind of stuff falls flat because the underlying message is as subtle as a baseball bat to the head and everyone can see they’re being manipulated by people who don’t quite get how to communicate with them. I think it’s very hard to pull off this kind of message campaign convincingly and effectively.

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  • Seven

    For all of you concerned with how Beyonce is making her millions, you should stop and think about how can you make your own…The next step is preach to the parents of this unhealthy society about being role models in their own children’s lives. Also be an actual parent like my parents were and say heck no to whatever you feel is unhealthy, inappropriate, and misleading. Remember that old saying, “not everything that glitters is gold”, teach that to todays kids….
    Its very disturbing to see how unhealthy we are in this country, and I really believe the change starts at home. Even if Beyonce said it’s not cool to drink pop, As a parent would you start buying pop for your kids knowing the facts, If she said its cool to start using crack, would parents start buying crack for there kids. Think before you start knocking someone else’s hustle. Haters like you just want to get noticed by riding her wave…

  • Ariella M.

    I AGREE WITH SEVEN!!!!! make your OWN choices!!

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