Earlier this week, New Yorkers noticed something different about the landmarked Pepsi-Cola sign along the East River. For the first time in its 80-year history, the iconic illuminated logo has been temporarily amended. JetBlue has added its logo to promote its recently-announced partnership where the airline will only serve PepsiCo drinks.
What do we call an advertisement that becomes and advertisement for another advertisement? Postmodernism?
Thus far, New Yorkers have resisted the change, asking that the city’s beloved landmarks be left alone by corporate interests. Because the Pepsi-Cola sign in Queens is already selling soda owned by one of the biggest soft drink conglomerates in the world, this situation is outside the norm for most of New York’s 36,000 landmark properties. Nevertheless, the synergistic marketing strategy may have backfired.
“It’s a pretty significant change to a pretty visible, iconic sign,” City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the area and has received upset calls from constituents about the sign, said in a statement. “Even if it’s temporary, it shouldn’t be there.”
“Wow, classic — corporations ruining my special relationship with other corporations,” one Twitter user posted.
The 147-foot-long sign was first erected on the roof of Long Island City’s Pepsi-Cola bottling facility in 1940, according to a Landmark Preservation Committee (LPC) report. The iconic 50-foot-tall painted soda bottle was likely replaced in the 1970s to feature the company’s contemporary design and the sign itself was rebuilt because of deterioration in 1993. Loved as a striking reminder of the neighborhood’s industrial past, numerous architects, city officials, and even the sign’s owner, testified argued against the sign becoming an official landmark before the LPC ultimately voted in favor of the special status in 2016.
Today, the Pepsi-Cola sign is “one of those landmarks that really captures people’s attention and hearts,” Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council, told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the story.
“It doesn’t surprise me people are upset,” he said. “It’s a pure visual form, and people have a very visceral reaction to it, and it becomes part of their cityscape in a way that not even some buildings do.”
According to the LPC regulations, the Pepsi-Cola sign only needs approval at a staff level for minor changes like lettering and symbol. The sign’s owner was therefore not required to hold a hearing or notify community members about the JetBlue ad because it will be taken down in less than 180 days.
“We know that people love the Pepsi-Cola sign in Long Island City, which also happens to be JetBlue’s home — It’s a living monument of both the Pepsi brand, and New York City,” Nancy Rooney, vice president of marketing for PepsiCo Food Service, told the website Curbed. “That’s exactly why we believe it is the perfect symbol to celebrate our partnership.”
But not everybody cares about the comings and goings on what is essentially a bright billboard. One resident living in a high-rise behind the sign told the Wall Street Journal that she had bigger things to worry about.
“The planet is melting down,” she said. “Our existence is in question.”
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