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20 May 2010

Ray Charles Ft. In Pepsi Commercials (1990 - 1993)

Long before Ray Charles starred in Pepsi's tv commercials in the early 1990s, he contributed to a famous Coca Cola campaign in 1966 - 1967 (see this and this). Few people remember that he also featured in a Pepsi radio campaign in 1986, titled The Best Of The New Generation (the songs "had nothing to do with the product; only his narration alluded to" the brand).

But the famous tv ad campaign for Diet Pepsi which started in 1990 had a genuine impact. It certainly helped to recharge Ray's image. You've got the right one, baby, uh-huh became the most popular catch phrase of the decade. The Auditions spot was rated most memorable commercial in 1991.

Ray Charles 50th anniversary in show business show in 1991 was entitled 50 Years In Music, Uh-Huh!  and was obviously sponsored by Pepsi-Cola. During one of the breaks in the first Fox broadcast of this show, Pepsi aired a commercial with a compilation of 10 price winners' efforts in a nation-wide Uh-huh contest that attracted thousands of video entries. An early example of user generated content; the later Audition commercial must have been ignited by this success.
"Following the announcement of the contest on February's Grammy Award telecast, nearly 4,000 individuals and groups submitted videos in a quest for fame (a chance to appear in a commercial) and fortune ($10,000 prize money). Originally, only three were to have been chosen, but the field was expanded when Pepsi's ad agency, BBDO, contemplated the overwhelming number of entries. Little Flower's 59 seconds-plus-a-few-milliseconds-long video featured sombrero'ed members of the Spanish Club belting out the jingle (in Spanish, of course); students warbling in a chem lab; a nun, Sister Loretta, who'd been at the school 47 years, singing, and a priest who transformed the jingle into a Gregorian chant - with a chorus of nuns intoning "Uh-Huh" instead of ''Amen." Incorporated into the Diet Pepsi ad was the Little Flower's grand finale: each member of the student body holding up a Diet Pepsi can in front of the school as a 70-foot-high homemade Pepsi banner was raised. The Blessed Virgin Mary cheerleaders were archdiocese champions last season. Wearing their navy blue and white cheerleader outfits, they performed a routine to the jingle while one of the girls' fathers videotaped them."
From 1991 on the campaign also ran in many other markets. In 1991 Pepsi e.g. decided to bring the Uh-Huh! spirit to Russia in the first-ever television commercials for Diet Pepsi seen in the Soviet Republic. Pepsi sponsored the Russian broadcast of the concert that Ray did in Moscow. When Charles appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show in August 1993, Arsenio made him crack up with a joke on the Uh-huh Girls: "Ray, If you got the right one, can I have the one on the left?"

The advertising campaign was created for Pepsi by BBDO, the New York advertising agency. The official title of the tune was Ray's Song. It was penned by Peter Cofeld at Sunday Productions, also of New York City. In the newsclip below BBDO's creative team and Cofield give more backgrounds.
Arthur Takeall of Annapolis, Maryland, a ventriloquist, claimed he was the author, and even registered the copyright on the song and the Federal Registered Trademark, You Got the Right One, Baby, Uh Huh. But he lost. There also was a persistent rumor that TAFKAP/Prince produced a demo of the jingle.
Update April 25, 2019: Here is a completely different take on Prince's involvement, mentioning authorship by (the advertising agency's?) creative director Alfred Merrin and jingle producer/composer Peter Cofield. The music sounds real. (Ray certainly didn't play, though, nor did The Raelettes take care of the background vocals).

I haven't found sufficient proof of the production or air dates of the commercial series, but I'll share my best guess reconstruction of their chronology.
The first campaign is from 1990, and entailed the commercials Wiseguy and Montana. In 1991 and 1992 the  television ads featured Ray with much more production value, surrounded by models reminiscing the Raelettes (they were nicknamed the Paylettes), singing the Uh-huh song. The 1991 campaign was launched during the commercial break of the Super Bowl XXV (the Conus Archive, ID 107271, has shelved the  making-of footage).
Uh Huh! soon also was featured on Diet Pepsi packaging. Later, after Diet Pepsi phased out the aspartame/saccharin mix in favor of a 100% aspartame formula, many commercials ended with an announcer saying, "With 100% Uh-Huh", replacing the earlier "With 100% NutraSweet". At the end of 1992 and '93 the campaign extended into a few promotions.

There even was an IVR extension, featuring Ray's voice, to simulate a dialogue with consumers.
Ray and his band (everybody sporting Pepsi-sponsored leasure ware) also played a series of free concerts at shopping malls in April 1991 (see this).
The agency went wild with all kinds of point-of-sale promotion materials (many of which are now for sale on Ebay).
In 1998 Pepsi celebrated its centennial year with a birthday party attended by bottlers from around the world and special guests including Ray Charles.

Newsclip in the context of the Superbowl, with BBDO team and composer, a few making of sequences, and a statement by the old man himself (Fox 5/WNYW, 1991):

The compilation tape below has the following commercials (YouTube usually has copies of separate spots with a better quality):
 Ray Charles singing thru
Pepsi door device (c. 1992).
  • Orchestra [according to one source taped on 18 February 1991] - 30"
  • Auditions [1991, with a.o. Jerry Lewis, Charo, Tiny Tim, Bo Jackson] - 30"
  • Courtroom [1991 or 1992] - 30"
  • Blues [1992] - 30"
  • Twins [1992] - 30"
  • Wiseguy [1990] - 30"
  • Worldwide [1991 or 1992] - 30"
  • Auditions [1991] - 60"
  • Orchestra [1991] - 60"

Other commercials were:
  • Montana [1990] - 30" 
  • Worldwide 60" [1991].
  • Superbowl/Congress (1992).
  • Auditions, take-off with John Stockton [1992 or 1993] - 25"; according to one source taped at the Osmond Stage in Orem, Utah for [improbably! BS:] JWT/LA. "NBA player, John Stockton, all-time leader in assists with the Utah Jazz, just can't seem to get it right until he gets a needed assist".
  • Backup Girls (the Paylettes without Ray) [1992 or 1993] - 30".
  • Ingredients [May 1992 or 1993] - 30".
  • Women at the beach [1993] - 30".
  • Cases [1993] - 30".
  • Lamborghini [1993] - 30".
  • Blues Club [1993] - 30".
  • A local variation became extremely successful in India, also during the early 1990s; slogan: Yeh hi hai right choice baby, produced by HTA and Mukul Anand.
'Demo by Prince':

Pepsi commercial round-up "Who's Next", with Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Kanye West, and Britney Spears, aired during the premiere episode of X Factor USA in 2011:

The Ray Charles Marketing Group uploaded a commercial from the 1990s that I didn't see before:

A 1993 promotion:

1993 Blues:

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