An Open Access Review Journal Encouraging Critical Engagement with the Continuing Process of Inventing the Middle Ages

May 8, 2013

Tarsem Singh, dir., Medieval Fighting for Pepsi (TV Commercial)

Director: Tarsem Singh
Brand: Pepsi
Agency: CLM & BBDO
Producer: Radical Media
Year: 2004, international

Reviewed by Claudiu Mesaroș (

Warrior leather clothing, dark and heavy metal armors, grocery markets, large glasses of wine, brutal manners, marginalized individuals, wooden but also mysterious artifacts, impressive castles, abusive church power, romantic knights and princesses, pure unaltered nature, wondrous monks, brute stupidity, magic and witchcraft. All these elements meet when medieval imagery is involved in films, computer games or commercials, sometimes giving the impression that the Middle Ages was nothing more than the mundus imaginalis of urban freestylers who can only place their ludic productions in one single space: that of medieval times.
Commercials and advertisements, with their ability to reach wide audiences, are by far the most significant medium accommodating this imagery. In an attractive television commercial produced by CLM & BBDO Agency in 2004 for Pepsi (, one can easily see an entire list of selling representations on medieval warfare and urban life. The commercial, featuring VIP football players Beckham, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos and Totti, is based on a rebel teens creation concept brilliantly turned into a medieval fighting scene. Pepsi-Cola’s advertisement thus introduces its blue Pepsi cans as the magical items desired in a medieval spoliation.
There is a series of statements which may be connected to the sections of the commercial. The list of ludic sentences may start with “Assault is imminent!” Once the commercial opens, viewers are instantly introduced to the medieval world: Knights on horses and individuals on foot are caught in the middle of a rash attack against a poorly defended citadel. It is true, isn’t it, that medieval life was permanently threatened by unpredictable violent harassments by hostile neighboring lords or foreign kings? 
This medieval tale continues with a second implicit statement: “There is always something secret in the medieval town square.” Warriors enter the open gates of the town and seem to be searching for something valuable, but hidden. They bring down all the tables of the market – the stereotypes about magic and vegetables in the Middle Ages can be confirmed by spotting, among beans and fruits, the most clear and shiny-looking garlic ever!
In the third sequence we are allowed to understand why the warriors were invading the city: They were either collecting a tax to be paid in nature (which the inhabitants were presumably refusing to pay) or just robbing the town looking for a particular resource. In either case, this is the point where the viewer can notice what the product is: Pepsi blue cans. Having conquered the town, the leader of the invaders is sitting on a huge load of cans and his soldiers are getting more and more cans from the most unexpected places: from a well, from under a hatching hen, from a wool container. In other words, water, food and clothing, i.e., everything, is symbolically convertible to Pepsi-Cola cans. Thus, the third sentence of the commercial should read like this: “Nothing is what it seems in the Middle Ages.
Suddenly, a child’s leather ball (well, maybe not medieval, but old fashioned-looking anyway) is crossing the screen and the magic is actualized: The invading soldiers see the ball and have a bad feeling about it. Or, maybe, they are well aware of its meaning! They empty the market, regroup and get ready for an imminent attack. A group of heroes can be noticed in the opposite corner of the town, waiting to be provoked. They are Beckham, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos and Totti, a magic team that would make any teenager’s day. 
The regrouped attackers start an assault, but Beckham sends the ball in the opposite direction, scaring the invaders to death. The other football players take positions and pass the ball to each other using skillful head-striking and doubles. Ronaldinho starts his well-known chest-take and head-holding, while the music turns from European to Samba. 
The invaders’ stupidity dims when Carlos sets the ball for a penalty execution: They organize themselves quite efficiently to form a defensive row. Their organization proves inefficient, however, because Carlos’s shot hits the immense Pepsi can container under the upper bar locker, and so the entire war booty is spilled out. The invaders ironically accept the non-violent defeat, and everybody bursts into the square for a final Pepsi feast. Beckham gives an autograph on a parchment for the child with the leather ball, and it seems that the child is receiving some recognition for actually starting the entire fight. 
There are several contradictions within this scenario: Football does not mean fighting but rather represents a burlesque confrontation; Pepsi is the object of strong fighting; Pepsi is important but somehow not priceless since the viewer can see how many cans of Pepsi can be found along with common goods in the market: four cans in the well’s water bucket; one under the hatching hen; three more in a wool box. 
The factual contradiction of all these characteristics is not problematic since imagery allows the intermingling of the empirical world with fiction: Pepsi-Cola’s mundus imaginalis is permissive with every possible stereotype that is able to sell. The Middle Ages is recreated using contemporary cultural elements such as football and black drinks. What Ernst Gellner [1] called a false collective memory, i.e., that national identity has been retro-actively recreated by nineteenth-century ideologies, proves to work similarly for cultural identities in a large sense, as individuals find this conversion acceptable. It is not historical truth that matters because historical truth is a construct. Imagology, as a critical study of cultural characteristics, can be realized only after abandoning our beliefs in the reality of cultural phenomena features [2].
The three sentences formulated to describe the stereotypes in the Pepsi commercial come to conclude on the contemporary public perception of the medieval period and prove that the public representation of the Middle Ages can be summarized as follows:
- Brutality: danger and insecurity was a daily routine;
- Stupidity: mystery was one of the main ingredients of life, probably human beings had no cognitive experience;
- Ludic world: everything was convertible into something else, more or less like in a (computer) game.

Claudiu Mesaroș
West University of Timișoara

[1] Ernest Gellner, Nations and nationalisms (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006 [1983]).
[2] Imagology. The cultural reconstruction and literary representation of national  characters, A critical Theory, ed. M. Beller and J. Leerssen (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007).