When Mountain Dew released its first “Felicia the Goat” commercial back on March 20, PepsiCo thought it had a good thing going. The spot is bizarre: An angry caprine (voiced by rapper Tyler, The Creator) beats up a waitress after she fails to give him enough fluorescent green soda.
The ad press loved it: Adweek immediately said, “Mountain Dew makes the best ad ever with a violent talking goat,” and eagerly awaited Tyler’s next “nasty goat” installment in the three-part series.
The second video was posted on April 8, and it showed Felicia escaping the cops after getting pulled over for a “DewUI.”
On the 24th, Tyler’s hip hop collective Odd Future posted the last part of the trilogy, asking, “Will Felicia get caught by the waitress he attacked in the first commercial?”
The goat is shown in a lineup with five black men and viewers can hear Tyler’s voice intimidating the injured, terrified waitress, “Snitches get stitches, foo,” and ”Keep ya mouth shut, I’m going to get out of here and Dew you up!” She runs out, near tears. (You can watch all the ads below.)
Things looked alright for Mountain Dew for a couple days. Tyler angrily responded to some confusion as to who the woman in the last ad was:
But the press was neutral. Tyler tweeted out “Da Goat” with a Youtube link to his 1.6 million-plus followers, and the mission seemed accomplished.
Then on May 1, finance scholar Dr. Boyce Watkins wrote an article titled, “Mountain Dew Releases Arguably the Most Racist Commercial in History” that went viral, and PepsiCo found itself in the midst of a PR meltdown it probably should have seen coming.
Watkins wrote a scathing review of the “racist” elements in the ad:
“Of course, in the world of Mountain Dew, every single suspect is black. Not just regular black people, but the kinds of ratchety negroes you might find in the middle of any hip-hop minstrel show. Mountain Dew has set a new low for corporate racism. Their decision to lean on well-known racial stereotypes is beyond disgusting. This doesn’t even include the fact that the company has put black men on par with animals.”
Watkins fears, “Even worse is that Mountain Dew probably thinks this ad is acceptable because they got the OK from a black man.”
Headlines about racism spread to almost every major media outlet across the country. Mountain Dew was also harshly criticized normalizing and downplaying violence against women — disturbingly trying to turn intimidating the abused into a joke.
In crisis mode, Mountain Dew quickly issued the statement: “We apologize for this video and take full responsibility. We have removed it from all Mountain Dew channels and Tyler is removing it from his channels as well.”
But when Business Insider asked if they planned on having Tyler, The Creator apologize, a rep declined to comment.
Although Tyler hasn’t personally addressed the issue head on, he has written a few tweets brushing on the topic that have been defensive and unapologetic.
He even seems to enjoy the media attention.
Without fully saying sorry, Tyler’s manager Christian Clancy posted on his Tumblr, “It was never Tyler’s intention to offend however offense is personal and valid to anyone who is offended.”
Even though Mountain Dew said it was only removing the final video, it removed the others as well.
When trying to play the second video on Odd Future’s blog, a message comes up that reads: “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by PepsiCo.”
But it’s impossible to erase a video from the internet, so some are still available on rogue YouTube accounts.
How It Happened
The real question everyone is asking is how on earth this ad got approved in the first place.
PepsiCo spokesperson Jen Ryan said that Tyler had “final approval” over the ad but did not know the details of PepsiCo’s involvement. The ad was never intended to run on TV.” (The first commercial did air on television.)
But even if Mountain Dew did give Tyler free reign, it definitely knew what to expect.
Rap Radar posted a video on April 29, after the last ad was released but before the controversy spread, in which Tyler explained to a crowded audience (including Mountain Dew reps) how the soda company approached him to tap into his creative talent and loved his concept.
He excitedly recalled the pitch: “Alright, it’s a f***ing goat, right? It’s a goat and he’s going to drink the f***ing Mountain Dew, and he’s gonna yell at the lady, and the cops are going to pull him over, and then he’s going to be in jail and then he gonna do PCP.”
Tyler admitted that he didn’t think that Mountain Dew would love “some stupid idea I come up with five minutes before the meeting … I’m so used to people saying, ‘That’s f***ing retarded, and I’m looking at Clancy like, ‘Yo are they serious’ and they actually liked it.”
Mountain Dew was was him when he went to the Valley in LA to look at goats.
Why It Happened
Adweek reckons that the fiasco is a sign of how “brands desperately want street cred.”
A Bloomberg article from April 2012 noted PepsiCo’s explicit attempts to “bring urban cool to [the] Mountain Dew image.” While it had a handle on cities like Nebraska and Kentucky, Mountain Dew was aiming to target a younger and more diverse audience in New York, LA, Miami, and New Orleans.
“It’s been a matter of messaging,” VP of marketing Brett O’Brien told Bloomberg. “We haven’t really talked to this differentiated, emerging teen base as much as we have that heartland consumer.”
So Mountain Dew signed rapper Lil Wayne as a spokesperson to tap into that market.
But Lil Wayne also caused problems for Mountain Dew this week over lyrics in his song “Karate Chop,” about how he wanted to “beat the p***y up like Emmett Till.” Till is a civil rights figure who was beaten to death for allegedly whistling at a white woman in 1955.
Although Till’s family complained about the lyrics months ago, Wayne only apologized Wednesday after the family released a video asking supporters to go after his endorsement deal.
“Don’t do the Dew. His biggest endorsement is through Pepsi’s Mountain Dew. Stop buying it, stop lining his pockets. People are outraged because they feel that he should apologize to our family,” a Till representative said to camera.”
One of the risks of signing with edgy artists with a young following is that they received their edgy reputation by pushing the limits and ignoring social norms.
Even though Tyler told Spin that “talking about rape and cutting bodies up, it just doesn’t interest me anymore,” his past lyrics have described how he would ”Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome.”
Tyler told Rap Radar he was gratified that Mountain Dew had put that aside and was willing to give his new, adult self a shot: “Finally someone looked past the rape or the devil worshiping or the immaturity which is evident in the ad, and they gave me a chance and let me be f***ing seven years old with their product.”