It’s a little before midnight, some summer evening in the early seventies, and you’re blazing at the drive-in. A van next to you is rocking (with a bumper sticker warning not to “come knocking”) and the first show (Peter Fonda’s The Trip) has just wrapped up. The movie wound its way around the country for a few years before finally arriving in your little town, and it sucked. But you’re with friends, and you’re feeling mellow. The next show is a sequel to Planet of the Apes. Your kid brother, the one who reads comics all the time, says it’s pretty boss. But he refers to things as “boss,” so what does he know? Then this intermission ad runs: “Hey! Son-of-a-gun! It’s refreshment time!” Suddenly you regret that third cheeseburger.
I love movie intermission ads. I’ve been known to sit through a crappy movie at our local drive-in, the Skyview, just to hear that sublime invitation to purchase hot dogs and popcorn. I’ve watched plenty of these ads on YouTube. But this ad, cleverly integrating the Pepsi logo into a sixties-era psychedelic freak-out, blew my mind. Its style is Peter Max, a pop artist whose work inspired countless sixties and seventies rip-offs. I grew up with this stuff, having little context to evaluate the style. Back then it seemed safe and gentle. Now these ads seem much more complex. Just watch that smiling cow transform into a hamburger and wonder: is that meant to be funny or disturbing? And what's with those human-faced paper cups? Does the overfilling soda represent mind expansion? And have you ever looked at your hand? I mean really looked at your hand? Well, you get the point.
What interests me most about ads like these is how they represent an appropriation of rebellious style -- mod youth, drug references, the peace movement -- to sell consumer products. This is hardly a new phenomenon; it wasn’t new back then either. Today’s most vivid parallel example comes from the integration of hip hop imagery, sound, and terminology into the most banal product appeals. Every generation, it seems, enjoys a moment or two of vivid, undisciplined artistic expression. It’s best to get used to them early. If they sell, you’ll see them for a long time.