Uzbek Pepsi, and creative high-points in advertising

Paul Squires
5 min readJan 23, 2024

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused a geopolitical rupture of a scale not to be experienced again in our lifetime. This gigantic country of republics, and its politically-aligned neighbours in the Eastern Bloc, imploded through a perfect storm of nationalism, indebtedness, and frustration. As citizens in the USSR’s constituent republics marched for days, months and years for self-determination, it finally happened when Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan and 10 more countries were created in the smoking ruins of the USSR.

All of these newly-formed — or reformed — countries not only had to work on creating their own government and socio-political structures, but also the move to more of a market economy. The USSR’s form of socialism had stopped working, then didn’t exist, and the new countries had to quickly move to some form of capitalism in order to attract inward investment in order to urgently modernise their capital-starved infrastructure. This change was rapid and not easy.

Some of the more globally-focussed corporations moved quickly. In particular, the opening of these markets was a huge opportunity for FMCG brands because they were what younger generations wanted, and at least some semblance of a sales and distribution network was already in place. This allowed companies like Coca-cola, Cadbury Schweppes, Pepsi, Henkel and Unilever to quickly gain market share from a starting point of zero.

Some of these brands imported advertising and marketing from the US and Western Europe, because the assets were high-quality and could quickly be translated. Some, however, relied on local companies where there were significant cultural differences.

One such example was Pepsico. The company had already made inroads into these markets when the USSR existed, having — famously — become an owner of 17 Soviet submarines, a frigate, cruiser, and destroyer, in exchange for continued market access as the country’s economy was dying. It had made Pepsico one of the world’s biggest private armies.

Pepsi had a leading share in cola after the USSR’s breakup which it wanted to keep. Here’s an ad extolling the virtues of Pepsi Cola in Uzbekistan. I guarantee that it is the craziest ad that you have ever seen.

Not much is known about this ad. It hasn’t been republished many times, and there doesn’t seem to be a record of its TV broadcast anywhere. The ad might, of course, be a spoof or a piece of video out of context, but for the purposes of this article, let’s put those suspicions aside.

To say that the makers of the ad have thrown the kitchen sink at this ad would be an understatement; they have thrown the entire sink factory at it. Starting with a traditional Uzbek scene, the ad across 3 (!!) minutes features impromptu party guests, dancers, a band, and even a moustached young man playing a keyboard in a swimming pool for no understandable reason whatsoever. Not only that, but there’s every late-80s visual effect included, and camerawork that can best be described as all over the place.

Because little is known about the ad, it’s impossible to know what the circumstances surrounding its creation are. However, one might imagine that the director wanted to include every person and group that he knew, borrow a couple of locations, throw everything up in the air (metaphorically), and see where it all landed — and if it was a mess, clean it up in post-production. Or not.

There is an obvious message in the ad, that drinking Pepsi will improve your life. It is such a simple message which is then creatively detonated onto the screen. There is nothing more to the ad in that way; the message is simple and obvious.

After having my senses pummelled for 3 minutes, I am highly entertained by the ad but also rather confused. Why is it like this?

Why is it like this?

Perhaps a better question to ask is: why shouldn’t it be like this?

Even though the creative execution is wild, the underlying message is extremely simple. The gap between the delivery and the style of the message is huge. That gap has closed considerably in the intervening years, as advertising becomes the end result of stronger and better-managed brand guidance and execution, data-informed decisions, and increased risk adversity due to stronger customer polling and feedback (itself guided by sales).

I’m not saying that the above isn’t relevant. It’s really relevant, but what has happened is that because advertising has to be much more “governed” by these elements, it’s less likely that creatives can go outside of those guardrails.

The end result is that creatives spend less time being creative, creating an existential threat. Adobe has captured this sentiment very well in recent reports, such as in the metrics below.

“State of Creativity” report, Adobe, 2020

The only ad of recent years that springs to mind which comes anywhere near the Uzbek Pepsi one is the Jaffa Cakes “Full moon” ad. It’s 25 years old now (yes, I know), meaning that either I haven’t watched enough TV ads since, or very few of them have stuck in the mind. You know… cut through.

“Full moon”, Publicis for United Biscuits, 1999

I’d love for that gap to widen once again.

Have a creative team look at personas, sales data, research evidence, and even some suggestions as to what to do with all of that, generated from AI. Then, send them into a forest for a few days with absolutely no interrogative stimuli and get them to come up with ideas without borders, without walls, without any guiding context. Present them back and see how effective their ideas are — because that gap is where effectiveness lies.

Adobe’s research that creatives have an uncertain future while being bogged down with admin leads to poorer creative decisions. Creatives need to be boundless in their thinking and the cultures in which they work have to support that. The melting pot of mathematical and technological tools and reporting that they have to their disposal, should push brands and agencies to be making more far-reaching and daring creative decisions. Tactical responses can be guided, sure, but braver responses are informed.

The worst outcome for agencies is to make the assumption that generative AI can replace creatives, because that is based on a culture that restricts human creativity rather than allows it to be supported, encouraged, and also augmented and complimented.

What the Uzbek Pepsi ad tells us, is not new, or not unique.

Let creatives be creative.



Paul Squires

Founder @imperica @pereramedia / Strategist @ibminteractive / Chair @furtherfield. Digital, media, art, politics, environment, culture, ephemera.