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Super Bowl

Timberlake Puts Bai Marketing on Hold for Pepsi Super Bowl Show

By Published on .

Viewers may care more about whether Janet Jackson makes a cameo in Justin Timberlake's Super Bowl halftime show, but his dueling beverage alliances are putting two brands in a tricky spot.
Viewers may care more about whether Janet Jackson makes a cameo in Justin Timberlake's Super Bowl halftime show, but his dueling beverage alliances are putting two brands in a tricky spot. Credit: Pepsi

Justin Timberlake has temporarily suspended his endorsement activities for Bai to clear the way for his appearance in the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show sponsored by Pepsi, according to people familiar with the deal.

Bai, an upstart beverage brand acquired earlier this year by Dr Pepper Snapple Group, will not use Timberlake's name and likeness until after the game on Feb. 4, according to the terms of the arrangement, which was confirmed by an NFL spokesman.

The entertainer's dueling beverage allegiances could put both brands in a tricky spot. Pepsi is already leveraging its affiliation with the superstar for the Super Bowl via social media marketing. But Timberlake is also on record speaking passionately about Bai, which has positioned itself as a healthier alternative to traditional soda brands.

Bai, meanwhile, must figure out a way to restart the endorsement deal after a temporary but incredibly high-profile break in which its star backer is essentially cheating with another beverage brand.

The Timberlake pick has also ignited backlash from some fans of Janet Jackson, who are calling for her to also be included in the Super Bowl performance. Timberland and Jackson delivered the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" when they performed at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.

To be clear, the Pepsi arrangement is not a typical endorsement. Pepsi's halftime sponsorship deal is with the NFL. The NFL owns the contract with the performing artist but Pepsi gets input, according to a person familiar with the deal. Still, Pepsi—which is in its sixth year sponsoring the show—typically uses the performer as a key part of its marketing leading up to the game.

A Bai spokeswoman in an email stated: "I can confirm that Justin is still involved with Bai and that he was an owner in the company prior to the acquisition by Dr Pepper Snapple in January 2017." She declined to comment further.

A PepsiCo spokeswoman declined comment.

Already, Timberlake's Facebook page has been updated with heavy Pepsi branding. The star spoke about the performance in an interview during "Sunday Night Football" last night on NBC. He tweeted the news to his more than 62 million Twitter followers by sharing a video that included Jimmy Fallon, who also tweeted it.


And in the weeks leading up to the game, Pepsi on its website will give behind-the-scenes looks into Timberlake's preparations for the show, according to an NFL press release.

A promotional video for the halftime show also includes plenty of Pepsi imagery.

Bai, which makes a range of carbonated and non-carbonated antioxidant-infused beverages touted as having no artificial sweeteners, brought on Timberlake in October 2016 as an investor and "chief flavor officer." In the announcement, he described himself as a "fan of Bai for a long time," adding that "as a father and someone who is cautious about what my family and I consume, I love what Bai stands for." In February, he appeared in a Super Bowl ad for Bai, alongside Christopher Walken. The Bai spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the brand is planning a 2018 Super Bowl ad.

In April, Bai released a manifesto video starring Timberlake that alludes to the brand's plucky underdog status in the beverage industry. That video remained on Bai's website as of this afternoon. In a statement issued in April supporting the video, Bai said, "We unbelieved that the sugary beverage industry couldn't be challenged by a guy in a basement who dared to dream," referring to Bai founder Ben Weiss.

Weiss founded Bai in 2009 from the basement of his home in Princeton, New Jersey. Dr Pepper Snapple Group acquired Bai in January for $1.7 billion. Bai markets its drinks as containing antioxidants. Ingredients include coffeefruit, which it calls a "superfruit." Products include Kohala Kola, a 5-calorie, zero-sugar soda whose package declares the drink as a "sparkling antioxidant infusion."

Of course, most Super Bowl viewers are probably more interested in whether Janet Jackson makes a cameo in the show than Timberlake's beverage endorsements. His selection has reignited debate over "nipplegate," in which he tugged Jackson's top open during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime performance. Some people have argued that Jackson bore the brunt of the backlash while Timberlake was unscathed, as the Mercury News points out today.

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