When I saw the Mountain Xpress report about the sign being altered, I was pleased, but as I looked closer at the photo accompanying the article, and the “LOVE” lettering – which is very straight, almost perfect, and did not in fact cover-up the word “PEPSI” – some doubt began to creep into my mind. Was this a protest, or a corporate publicity stunt? I began hunting down the truth.
In the meantime, the Mountain Xpress updated its article with “PEPSI RESPONDS.” I read the response with with my BS goggles on, and responded myself, in the comments section. Here’s part of my comment on that updated article:
…part of me thinks this is all a publicity stunt paid for by Pepsi. As in, Pepsi decides to leave it, and everybody loves them for being so “cool” about it, blah blah blah. I’m ever suspicious of corporations. They pretend to be human sometimes.
Moore Patton, corporate marketing manager for Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Hickory is credited above as the “creator of the ‘PEPSITOWN’ billboard,” and quoted as saying:
Within moments of posting my comment, I heard from a person claiming to be one of the LoveTown Activists, and I am fairly well convinced after our conversation that I was heading down the wrong path with my original theory of a corporate scam being played on the good people of Asheville. I believe now that the situation is as it appears to be: A giant company had the audacity to claim our town as its own, and some local hippies hit ’em with a love bomb.
The signage in Eugene was a red herring, but due to my comment (and a note I wrote to the author of the original story) the MntX article has been amended to reflect that, Mr. Patton “says he brought the phrasing to Asheville after seeing it used in another Pepsi territory.”
“Pepsi territory.” I’ll let that little bit of corporate land-grab phraseology slide for now.
My conversation with the “Love Town Activist” was interesting. Asking for complete anonymity, and adamant that the opinions being expressed were theirs alone, and not those of the entire “Love Town Activist” group, the Activist started right off the bat with an unequivocal statement that Pepsi manufactures “poison” that “kills people.” I asked for clarification, and according to my interviewee, the poison being referred to is the food coloring, sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup that kills people through diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Hard core hippiness. Yeah, Man! I can dig it. I’m down. Fuck high fructose corn syrup!
I was less interested in the specific (alleged) evil deeds against mankind by Pepsi than the topic of corporate hegemony in general, so I steered our conversation in that direction by saying that I was offended by the idea that any corporation would erect such a billboard, claiming our awesome little town as their own. We bonded over that.
The Pepsi sign “did not accurately represent our community, the people of Asheville,” added the Activist.
I agreed, and asked if the LoveTown graffiti was a big “middle finger” to Pepsi and other corporations. There was a pause… “It was an act of love,” said the Activist.
Love. Middle Finger. Potato. Potahto. I laughed.
“I don’t condone graffiti,” The Activist went on to say, “I do not invite copy cats, I do not condone acts of civil disobedience, I condone acts of love.”
I told the Activist that I was surprised. “Acts of civil disobedience are a long American tradition,” I said, “that’s how voting rights were changed, race rights, women’s rights, workers rights…”
The Activist let me know that, specifically, “graffiti as an act of civil disobedience,” was not condoned by them.
I was starting to get confused, so to clear-up my own understanding, I said, “It sounds to me like you’re saying that you don’t want anyone to run afoul of the law, emulating what you’ve done, by tagging up private property with graffiti.” The Activist confirmed that was an accurate assessment.
I then added, “Buhhht… I personally see graffiti coming in several categories, including Vandalism, Art, and Protest. In my opinion, your LOVE TOWN graffiti comes under the third header, and from my observations, it seems that the majority of graffiti in Asheville falls in the categories of Vandalism or Art, and very little of it falls into the third, and I think the most historically important category of Protest. What do you think of the current state of graffiti in Asheville today?”
The Activist basically agreed with the first part of my statement, but didn’t quite answer my question as to the state of local graffiti, and reiterated that their graffiti was specifically “an act of love,” not civil disobedience.
I moved on to another line of questioning.
I asked what the end goal might be for the LoveTown Activists. What change would they like to see. Would they like to see the sign removed? Altered? No longer a Pepsi sign, or a corporate sign at all? What, if anything would this person, identifying themselves to me as one of two “doers of the deed” of defacing the original image and message, like to see happen now?
“The billboard should reflect the community, and should not be a corporate advertisement at all, but should be purchased by someone who would promote a message of love,” was the answer.
Y’know what? That would be great. I’d like that too. Maybe we can all raise enough money to rent that space… and… I’m exhausted already just from thinking about it. I’ll leave all that up to the hippies. I’m too punk to give THAT much of a fuck, and I kinda still think a heartfelt “Fuck You” would have been an equally eye-catching alteration, and maybe wouldn’t have looked so much like a corporate-sponsored gimmick… but that’s just me.
I feel as though the super-soft message of “LOVE,” and the very diplomatic press release from the LoveTown Activists allowed Mr. Patton from Pepsi to have a “pretty good chuckle,” and apparently he feels zero pressure from Corporate HQ to remove the billboard, which remains in its altered condition as of yesterday afternoon. (Monday April 6th) From Corporate’s point of view, it’s alll goood. Now the offensive signage has a message of love that Asheville can embrace, and hey, it still says PEPSI in huge letters, and contains their unmistakable branding. It looks as if the billboard was always meant to be that way, like maybe the “Eat Mor Chikin” cows stopped by and did little a contract work for Pepsi on the side. Mr. Patton couldn’t have stumbled upon a better publicity scheme if he’d traveled to Eugene a hundred times in 2013.
The Mountain Xpress article never really took him to task for the original sin of his ham-handed and offensive branding of Asheville as “PEPSITOWN,” instead allowing him an opportunity to further soft-pedal his own company (Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Hickory), with statements like the following:
“We’ve got 350 employees in our company, and every single one of them is well-paid, they raise families, they’re active in the community,” says Patton. “As a company, I’d like to think we’ve given back and will continue to give back to the Asheville community in a lot of ways.”
Who cares? I mean, that’s wonderful and everything, but who the fuck cares? This is a story about corporate hegemony, and local resistance to it. No one has attacked Mr. Patton’s employees. No one is claiming that they are not active members of their communities. So why on Earth does Mr. Patton feel the need to defend them? Why is he dragging them into this at all? They’re just doing their jobs, while he claims to have “developed” the offensive “PEPSITOWN” brand, and is credited as the “creator” of the billboard in question. Magicians call it “misdirection.” Corporations call it PR.
I do feel as though The LoveTown Activists did what needed to be done by painting that billboard like they did. It sucked as it was, and it sucks a lot less now. They did us all a favor with their paint-rollers of love, it’s just unfortunate that it seems as though Pepsi might be one of the entities benefiting from that favor.
What benefit did we, as Ashevillians gain by this act of love? An interesting little story? A weird sign that says “Welcome to PESPILOVETOWN?” Nothing at all?
I think we’ve gained something huge: A conversation. A public conversation about graffiti, protest, corporations, branding, identity, community, and whether or not we are owned by Pepsi and other corporate interests.
Are we PepsiTown?
Are we “This Space for Rent Town?”
Are we a town in which any interest or entity, no matter how egregious or out-of-place, can simply purchase the ability to brand us as their own?
Are we a town that condones acts of civil disobedience?
Reading the responses to the story from some locals on the MtnX page, the answers to all of those questions are unclear. Some local business owners took a far more strident stance against the Love Town Activists than did Mr. Patton. Others spoke up against the very idea of Asheville being branded by outsiders. (Ahembeercityusacoughcough) Me? It’s something I always want to talk about. Fuck. Corporate. Hegemony.
After I got sued by Kraft Foods International in 2003 I said, “Corporations wanna shove their bullshit messages and iconography down our throats, but they freak the fuck out when we puke it back up into their stupid ugly faces.”
Puke. Act of love. Tomato. Tomahto.
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