Have a Pepsi Day


© History Oasis

Pepsi aimed to boost sales and dethrone rival Coke in the late 1970s "Cola Wars" when it released its smash-hit "Have a Pepsi Day" ad, which featured carefree teenagers roller skating to the Beach Boys' sunny jingle.

This 30-second commercial encapsulated the breezy, youthful California zeitgeist of the era and almost single-handedly rocketed Pepsi past Coke to become America's top-selling soda within 3 years.


a have a Pepsi Day ad
Source: PepsiCo

The origins of the classic "Have a Pepsi Day" commercial, which first flickered across American television screens in 1977, reveal much about the shifting cultural tides of the late 1970s.

This iconic ad was born out of the creative visions of advertising behemoth Leo Burnett Worldwide at a time when the agency was at the height of its powers.

Seeking to boost sales and challenge rival Coca-Cola in the so-called "Cola Wars," Pepsi's marketing executives turned to Leo Burnett's proven expertise in capturing the public's imagination.

Under the leadership of advertising executive Joe Pytka, the creative minds at Burnett sought to embody the sunshine-soaked, youthful essence of California cool through this 30-second vignette.

Echoing the brightly colored, surf culture-influenced imagery that came to define the late 1970s, the commercial featured fresh-faced young roller skaters gliding across the screen, captured in all their feathered-hair freedom to the tune of The Beach Boys' fittingly catchy jingle.

Pytka, already renowned in advertising circles for his acclaimed Super Bowl Shuffle commercial for McDonald's in 1985, brought his distinctive directorial vision to rendering the cinematic mini-narrative of carefree teenage abandon.

The fruits of Pytka and Burnett's labors arrived at a cultural moment when American audiences, weary from Vietnam and Watergate, yearned for this kind of breezy optimism.

Over the next three years, as part of Pepsi's broader campaign, this commercial won over consumers and critics alike, winning awards and acclaim that etched its few seconds forever into advertising legend.

Though fashions and musical styles faded away, the message encapsulated in those frames continues to resonate decades later.


© History Oasis

The "Have a Pepsi Day" commercial stands out for encapsulating a spirit of sunny, youthful jubilation that sparked an emotional chord with the American viewing public.

This exuberant ode to the endless summer showcased the golden promise of Southern California as a cultural ideal and aspirational paradise for teenagers across the country.

The commercial was deliberately shot on location in Venice Beach to channel the quintessence of this breezy, beachfront lifestyle.

Against the palm tree-dotted backdrop of the Venice boardwalk, all tanned skin and rolling waves, the roller-skating teenagers of Pepsi's ad seem to capture the essence of carefree joy.

Their feathered locks and colorful shorts flap in the ocean air as they glide innocently through this coastal paradise, all sun-kissed smiles and freedom.

This cinematographic postcard conjures an atmosphere at once nostalgic and aspirational for viewers—it taps powerfully into cultural conceptions of California as a land of endless, idyllic youth.

Yet beyond envisioning the Golden State as a glittering dreamscape, this imagery also immortalized the frolicking exuberance of adolescence as a universal rite of passage.

In showcasing these young ambassadors letting loose on roller skates, Pepsi created an indelible snapshot of youthful abandon that continues to spark wistfulness and joy across generations.


the beach boys performing the Have a Pepsi Day jingle
© History Oasis

No recounting of the "Have a Pepsi Day" commercial would be complete without focusing on its infectiously catchy musical heart—the jingle performed by American pop legends The Beach Boys.

Pepsi selected this chart-topping group, whose earlier surf-rock harmonies had already soundtracked countless beach parties and car rides, for their unique ability to bottle the sunshine essence of the West Coast sound.

As the commercial's roller-skating teenagers whiz beneath the California sun, The Beach Boys' spirited voices ring out in perfect accompaniment: "Have a Pepsi Day! Have a Pepsi Day!"

Effortlessly fusing the fizzy flavor of Pepsi with therapy, fun-loving attitude of the southern California lifestyle, this simple and memorable jingle sums up everything the ad wants to convey. It conjures images of friends sharing ice-cold Pepsis after a day riding waves and promises endless possibility with every sugary sip.

Beyond neatly encapsulatingPepsi's messaging, The Beach Boys' spirited performance also connects deeply with the commercial's late 1970s zeitgeist.

Their doo-wop pop style had soundtracked an earlier era of adolescence just over a decade before; now, their throaty harmonies evoke a comforting familiarity for viewers while still coming across as vibrant and current.

Much as the group themselves enjoyed a revival in this period, so too did their bright, youthful California sound perfectly bottle the sunshine-daydream vibe Pepsi sought to sell.

The jingle's inherent memorability thus ensured that "Have a Pepsi Day" became etched forever into the cultural consciousness.


vintage coca-cola ad
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

By the late 1970s, Pepsi had been locked in a fierce battle for cold drink supremacy against arch-rival Coca-Cola for decades.

Seeking to dethrone Coke from its leading market position, Pepsi gambled heavily on this visually arresting and musically catchy celebration of what their brand represented—bubbly, beachfront refreshment.

Hiring advertising titans Leo Burnett Worldwide and director Joe Pytka, Pepsi went all-in to craft a commercial that encapsulated the spirited, fun-loving Pepsi spirit.

This strategy paid off handsomely as the "Have a Pepsi Day" campaign launched the brand to unprecedented success when it began airing in 1977.

Within just three years, buoyed by the popularity of this smash-hit commercial, Pepsi had firmly entrenched itself in the American cultural imagination as the choice of a new generation.

By the end of the decade, Pepsi surpassed Coca-Cola as the highest selling soda in the U.S. market—an astonishing achievement marking a major shift in what had been, up till then, Coke's domain.

Of course, music, imagery and messaging cannot alone be credited for such a tectonic market turnaround.

But by encapsulating everything that represented the Pepsi brand—bubbly sweetness, smiles, sun, youth and good vibes—at this particular cultural moment, the ad tapped perfectly into the zeitgeist of its era.

Almost single-handedly, those 30 seconds of blissful roller-skating cool powered the ambitious underdog past its long-dominant rival in sales, cementing Pepsi's pop culture legacy. Its impact resonates through Pepsi's continued market success to this day.


have a pepsi day ad scene
© History Oasis

While countless commercials have flickered across television screens over the decades, few have seared themselves into public memory and nostalgia quite like the "Have a Pepsi Day" ad.

Its images proved indelible, its melody unforgettable and its embodiment of carefree cool aspirational across generations.

Through its heady mix of sunset-kissed California vibes, synchronized roller-skating teens and surf-rock soundtrack, this 30-second vignette crystallized the free-wheeling essence of youthful abandon.

In the years that followed, as Pepsi cemented its commercial legacy and market supremacy, the ad continued finding new life through the time-honored modern ritual of parody.

Its iconic imagery, symbolism and many instantly recognizable elements have formed the template for homages, send-ups and pop culture references across every medium.

Whether satirized in animated form in The Simpsons, dramatized in period films, or playfully recreated in ads for other products, the cultural resonance of those roller-skating teenagers gliding blissfully through their beachside paradise has become firmly interwoven into the tapestry of American nostalgia.

Like all icons that come to represent an era aesthetic, the ad's myriad reproductions and remembered snippets pay ongoing tribute to its profound influence in bottling a cultural zeitgeist.

Through all its subsequent reincarnations, the eternal cool captured in this commercial continues lighting up screens and sparking smiles to this day.