AVLFoodFansLogo_2015Hello Asheville!
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By now you’ve seen the “LOVETOWN” billboard, right?  The one that used to say “PEPSITOWN,” until (apparently) some hippies painted the word “LOVE” over the part that said “PEPSI,” so that now it reads, “LOVETOWN?” No? You haven’t seen it? Go check it out, it’s right there at Exit 4B as you come into downtown, Eastbound on Patton Avenue.
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When I first saw the PEPSITOWN sign, it totally irritated the living fuck out of me.
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It reads in full, “Welcome to PEPSITOWN.”
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PEPSITOWN is all one word, one font, one color, so that it’s up to our human mind to decide where the break is, and whether the word is pronounced “Pepsi Town,” rather than, say…  “Pep Sitown,” or “Pepsit Own.”
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To my eyes – which are ever on the look-out for corporate hegemony – the word “OWN” stood out like a beacon.
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What my eyes saw in this sign was that a giant corporation – one that has no actual connection to Asheville beyond the fact that some people here drink their product – has decided that they OWN Asheville. Their sign bids visitors and residents alike, “Welcome to OUR town. Pepsi Town. Pepsit Own. Pepsi OWNs this town. PEPSI OWNS YOU, ASHEVILLE.”
I didn’t like that.
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I remarked to Dawn several times that I hoped there would be a protest, and that the sign would be changed. Then one day, POOF! It changed.
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lovetown_asheville_2015
The word “LOVE” appeared on the sign in large, semi-transparent, red, block lettering, over the brand name “PEPSI,” effectively changing the message of the sign from “Welcome to PEPSITOWN” to “Welcome to LOVETOWN.”
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My first thought: “This is the work of Hippies.”
I fuckin’ love hippies.
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While my own Punk Rock mind was thinking more along the lines of a big “FUCK YOU” spray-painted over the whole thing, the beautiful minds of hippies had thought about adding the word “LOVE.” Asheville is Love Town, not PEPSITOWN, say the hippies! Yay!
That’s awesome.

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:

‘We’re not going to take it down immediately. We kind of like it. They did a wonderful job with the artwork.’

He goes on to say:

‘[The “PEPSITOWN” phrase] is a word play. I developed it. It was nothing more than just advertising Pepsi and trying to associate our relationship with Asheville, because Asheville has been mighty good to us.’

Yet, I found evidence (A photo posted to Tumblr) showing that Eugene Oregon was also ‘branded as Pepsitown’ in 2013.

Everything about this story smells like a corporate publicity scheme to me, and I wonder if the MoutainX could follow-up on the Oregon signage and Mr. Patton’s claim that he came up with the phrase. Did he come up with it in 2013? While working in Oregon?

I offered to interview any of the “LOVE activists” for Ashvegas.com, but so far no one has come forward, so I would like to use this forum to put the message out to the ‘Lovetown spokesperson’ who wrote ‘the original news release,’ or anyone who was actually involved with painting the word ‘LOVE’ on the sign, please contact me through FaceBook. I’d love to hear from you!

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.

Picture 17
Left: A screen-grab of my Twitter page showing a screen-grab of a Tumblr post from Eugene Orgeon, 2013. Right: A screen grab of the LOVE TOWN sign as it appears on the Mountain Xpress article.

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.

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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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stu_helm_2013Stu Helm is an artist and writer living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook 

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32 Comments

  1. “For the record, I… don’t…eat all my meals at Applebees or believe George Bush is angelic.”

    The ONE TRUE GOD will punish you for your heresy!

    About Applebees, I mean, not W.

  2. Sabrimarie55 says:

    ha ha ha. this is the best comment stream i’ve been trapped by in a long time. completely covers all the ground of all the streams i’ve ever read. and yes, i’m a native.

  3. There is only one issue here: Billboards.
    Is there a billboard that is overtly an advertisement we would accept?
    The iconic Apple logo perhaps?

  4. It’s interesting, Stu takes Pepsi to task when he suspects they are involved in a publicity stunt with a billboard, yet when his chef friends invite him to their restaurants and comp his meals because they know he’ll provide them a glowing write up and free advertising, that publicity is totally cool. Mr. Patton….Stu…it’s all PR.

    • Yeah. Because that’s totally the same thing.

    • You know what? You guys can count on one thing about me: I will NEVER tell you that I enjoyed food that I din’t actually enjoy. If I write a “glowing” review, it’s because the food was outstanding. I will never try to sell you a turd just because I didn’t have to pay for that turd when I ate it. It’s insanity to suggest that I would do otherwise.

      The only reason you even know that I get comped food is because I give you guys FULL DISCLOSURE. I can all but guarantee you that every single other food writer in this town — and perhaps the entire country — receives comped food. All. The. Time. Much more than me in fact. The only dif: I tell you guys about it. The other writers don’t mention it, so you don’t know, and I get attacked for being open about the truth. My readers can count on me to be honest about how the food tastes, as well as where it came from. I still pay for about 95% of what I eat, BTW, so don’t let your imagination run away with you.

      But, y’know what… that’s not what the piece above is about. It’s about corporate hegemony and how locals react to it. So, instead of taking trollish jabs at me personally, why don’t you weigh in on the subject?

      How did you feel about the PEPSITOWN sign, and how do you feel about the alteration made by the Love Town Activists?

      • Actually Stu, in the last two things you wrote about restaurants (Gas Shan Station and Buffalo Nickel) you did not disclose whether or not you paid for the food. I just assume you didn’t because you wrote about how chummy you are with the chefs. Not FULL DISCLOSURE at all. I think it’s funny that you get outraged at the mere suggestion that you trade food for PR, quid pro quo. It would be ridiculous to suggest that it isn’t happening at least a little… You’ve created a nice little racket for yourself, just enjoy it and quit feigning outrage.

      • Other Scott says:

        It isn’t about how “the locals” react to it. It’s about how one group of self-entitled people couldn’t get past a billboard. Boo hoo. I don’t go around defacing every billboard that I don’t personally agree with.

        That’s my stance on this billboard. It was a cheesy marketing gig, just like every other cheesy marketing gig that any company has ever come up with.

        To even imply that going around vandalizing private property as some kind of way to “fight the power” is a positive thing is incredibly childish.

  5. Property destruction and defacing is tacky and impulsive behavior. This particular exhibit is indicative of an unhinged mindset that could only be engendered by a false sense of importance.

    • It’s exactly this attitude that makes breaking rules worth while and so fun. Keep up the blanket statements and finger wagging. But I’m with you about this being a mindless self righteousness alteration it’s boring and cliche.

  6. That billboard has been altered dozens of times over the years. This particular modification lacks creativity and substance. In fact Papsi themselves have used love in ad campaigns many times over. I hope this person was on mushrooms because any sober person should realize if your going to commit several crimes you better come at least a couple notches higher then a bathroom wall at the citgo.

  7. I just assumed it was corporate HQ’s idea.

    Coca Cola ad, circa 1971:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ib-Qiyklq-Q

    Plus the letters are so perfectly matched to the Pepsi Lettering…

  8. Sheesh, it’s a friggin’ billboard. Get a grip, people.

    • James Osterberg says:

      Agreed, I’m so punk I’ve never given a fuck about what a billboard says. My momma taught me long ago not to take what the billboards say about me personally. It’s advertising. Who cares what anyone else says about you? I’m so hippie that I know in my heart if Asheville is a Pepsi town or not and that’s all that matters.

      I guess it’s admirable that Stu cares so much and has the time to investigate (in turn giving more publicity to Pepsi), but I see this as a non-issue. Otherwise, let’s convene a forum discussing corporate presence in Avl and really rage against this machine.

    • I really don’t think it was “just a friggin’ billboard.” Had it said “Drink more Pepsi,” it wouldn’t have bothered me one bit and I seriously doubt that the love town activists, or anyone else would have altered it in any way. It was the fact that it said “Welcome to PEPSITOWN” that made it different than any other billboard in town. Or that I’ve ever seen.

  9. graphic designer says:

    I wonder how some Asheville ‘hippies’ were able to climb the sign and produce such straight and uniformly transparent lettering?

    • You’ve got to do something with that liberal arts degree before you get married, shave, and become your parents.

      Personally I would have gone with more of a contrasting 2 tone color scheme.

  10. Other Scott says:

    I can’t get behind this. Any of it. If you don’t like a billboard, then you don’t pay attention to it. It’s a freaking billboard. It isn’t hurting you or anyone else. Do we really think that outsiders are coming in and reading that and thinking “Oh wow, well if a billboard said it, it must be true. This is clearly some sort of PEPSITOWN. Since billboards are always publicly-erected and an accurate reflection of the culture of whatever piece of land they happen to be sitting on.”

    And this is really what we’re going to condone? If you don’t like something, just go “fix” it? What if I don’t like the color of your house? Should I come exercise some civil disobedience on it with my own paint?

  11. Having read your piece through my BS goggles I wonder if maybe it was you who altered the text. Is that paint under your finger nails . . . or just dirt?

  12. I prefer the much shorter faux food critic posts to this long, faux investigative one.

    • And yet… you still read it. Every. Single. Word I write, you eat up like ambrosia, and then, without fail, you post one of your bitchy little comments. You’re like the Old Faithful of Trolls.

  13. This is the best. Well done, Stu! Pepsi is poison, pure and simple (or, impure and complex.) I don’t want to live in a PEPSIT OWN.

  14. Former Reporter at WYPN says:

    Can I please get back the 5 minutes of my life that I used reading this?

    Are some people really that insecure they wonder as to “whether or not we are owned by Pepsi and other corporate interests”?

    • Gee whiz. Are some Former Reporters so insecure that they are afraid to ask the question?

      • Are some Stu Helms so insecure they feel they have to respond to every gentle criticism?

        That being said, I thought it was a great piece, Stu, and I applaud the folks who “appropriated” the billboard.

        • I’m glad you liked my piece, but I fear you missed the point if you’re opposed to the idea of a conversation about this subject.

          The reader above asked a question. I gave an equally “gentle criticism” to back to the reader, which was completely in keeping with the tone of my piece, as in: Why wouldn’t we ask these questions?

          By responding to this reader I am participating in the conversation I called for in the piece itself. I fail to see why that’s a bad thing.

          My question to the reader remains unanswered, so I will ask it again:

          Is this “Former Reporter at WYPN” afraid to ask the question he/she criticized me for asking in the first place?

          And, too, also, by the way… the “gentle criticism” that I DON’T respond to far outweighs those few times that I do decide to jump into the Troll-infested waters of the Ashvegas comments section. I chose to do so this time, specifically because of the topic at hand, which I feel warrants discussion.

          I called for the discussion. Why wouldn’t I participate in it?

          • This is what bothers me about this town.
            We are all up in arms about a damn billboard that has no true impact on our community. Yet we quietly let real issues in this town rot on the vine. Now, I drive by that damn thing everyday and it’s dumb and obviously not true but I never once thought, well shit that is really hurting the image of Asheville.
            Hell, I would welcome Pepsi with open arms if they ever wanted to build a plant here and bring 1000 + decent paying jobs because that is what our area truly needs. For the record, I am a native and no I don’t live in a trailer or eat all my meals at Applebees or believe George Bush is angelic. There were actually some of us around before 2005.

          • It was a dumb joke and I apologize. Of course you have a right to participate in the discussion.

            Keep up the good reporting – thanks.

  15. Stu, good start, maybe it’ll have legs.
    As for your way of revolutionizing the sign by a “Fuck You” embellishment: that wouldn’t have lasted 24 hours. Did you mean that metaphorically? You do seem genuinely pissed about the whole thing being a win-win.
    It is the graffiti-artist-civil disobeying-activist’s love bombed LOVE TOWN statement that has remained visible because of its legs. Perhaps the message/legend of the love-bomb will grow, it’s own meme.
    Personally, I don’t think Pepsi will kill you. No one wants to go there.

  16. 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? Yes. Sadly. US Cellular Center is another example and I expect it to continue. Thanks for this well-written piece.

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