Puke. Gag. Vomit. Retch.
These are understated words that describe my initial reaction to this incomprehensibly tasteless potential Super Bowl ad from Pepsico. It was posted on their website as part of a contest to choose upcoming Super Bowl ads for the company’s Frito-Lay and Pepsi brands. Only after a well-deserved outcry from Catholics and (I hope) all Christians who viewed the ad did Pepsico remove it from consideration. (You can read reactions to the ad here and here.)
The gist of the commercial is the following: A parish of undisclosed ecclesial affiliation (one may infer from the clerical collars that it’s of a higher church tradition, either Catholic, Episcopal, or Lutheran, but that fact is unimportant) is facing hard financial times and declining membership, like many churches and parishes these days. The church’s pastor prays for guidance and hears the crunch of a snack chip and the pop of a soft-drink can. Upon hearing these sounds, he experiences an epiphany.
The next scene shows the clergy of the church serving Holy Communion using Dorito’s and Pepsi MAX, with lines to receive these elements stretching outside the church doors.
Like I said: Puke. Gag. Vomit. Retch. Shame on them. A pox on their house (with love from the hometown of an even larger dispenser of sugar-water).
But let me offer one small word of consolation: I always appreciate when our country’s entertainment-industrial complex acknowledges churchgoing as part of a person’s normal routine. After all, just last week, about 50 million of us went to church on Sunday. If that same number of Americans tuned in to a TV show, it would be among the largest audiences in history. If the same number of Americans bought a particular CD, it would be the number-one-selling album of all time.
And this doesn’t mean that only about 17 percent of Americans are churchgoers. That’s just one particular Sunday. Probably another 17 percent or more go regularly.
My point is that churchgoing is badly underrepresented on prime-time TV. I’m sure the root of this problem is the fear of offending. It’s easier not to deal with religion at all. As with an episode of The Office last fall, I applaud nearly any effort to portray churchgoing as normal. But, please… Not like this!
One more bright spot: There is at least a certain kind of honesty to this commercial. Madison Avenue lies to us all the time—convincing us that this or that product or service will make us happy, attractive, popular, or fulfilled. And too often, our idol-making hearts fall for it. In this regard, the Super Bowl is an orgy of idolatry.
So at least this commercial places the problem in stark relief: It shows people almost literally attempting to satisfy our built-in desire for our Creator with a cheap, unsatisfying, and unhealthy substitute.
Maybe they should show the commercial, after all!