Music fans were in for a surprise Wednesday night when the debut of Pepsi’s new “Music Icons” commercial, featuring Ray Charles, aired during the premiere of Simon Cowell’s “The X Factor” reality competition. The ad celebrates Pepsi’s rich history of incorporating worldwide superstars into its numerous music-focused television spots and along with Charles, featured talents such as Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, and Kanye West.
The original Ray Charles Diet Pepsi campaign contained eleven commercials and aired from 1990-1992, including being broadcast in three consecutive Super Bowls. Featuring the famous “You Got The Right One, Baby! Uh Huh!” catch phrase, the extravagant television spots maintain worldwide recognition to this day. An enormous success for Pepsi, the campaign received numerous advertising achievements awards, including the Cannes Lion Film Gold and Video Storyboard’s “Campaign of the Year”. Ray Charles received a Clio Award for “Male Performer of the Year” and was named Ad Age Magazine’s “Star Presenter of 1990”.
“Mr. Charles stated that the Diet Pepsi campaign was one of the highlights of his career and that “You’ve Got The Right One Baby, Uh-Huh!” was one of his most popular songs,” said Valerie Ervin, president of the Ray Charles Foundation.
It was not just the career of Ray Charles that was impacted by this campaign. At first, “Uh-Huh Girl” Gretchen Palmer (pictured above left) thought the Diet Pepsi ad shoot with singer Ray Charles would be just another gig. But after it wrapped, she knew they’d done something special.
“After we finished and the music stopped … it was like a euphoric feeling came over the room,” she says. “Something special happened in that moment, and the ad person … said, ‘Put those girls in the next three commercials.’ ”
Over the next three years, they appeared together and, though they lip-synced in the ads, they met with music executives about a CD.
The album never happened, but Palmer, 49, went on to act in TV shows such as The Young and the Restless and The Parkers. Now, between acting jobs, she teaches acting and dance and sells real estate in Pasadena, Calif. She remains close to the other Uh-Huh Girls, who are modeling and making music. “We are like sisters.”
The new commercial follows the recent introduction of retro Ray Charles “Uh Huh!” tees, available at Urban Outfitters, Kitson, and in the online Pepsi Shop at http://shop.pepsiusa.com/products/search/?terms=Uh+Huh. The Ray Charles Facebook Page has also recently incorporated the campaign by posting all of the original Diet Pepsi spots during a Ray Charles Diet Pepsi Prize Pack giveaway, culminating in a grand prize to be awarded on what would have been Charles’ 81st birthday, September 23rd.
In an unprecedented tie-in with “The X Factor” television show, Pepsi will feature the winner of the reality competition in a PepsiCo Super Bowl commercial, where he or she can join superstars like Ray Charles who have lent their talent to the global soft drink company. The Super Bowl commercial, along with a $5 million recording contract with Syco/Sony Music, will make the prize for winning “The X Factor” the largest in television history.
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