Ludacris rose to prominence as one of the world’s top rappers in the early 2000s. This drew a number of brands to him, resulting in many endorsement deals.
One such contract was with the soft drink behemoth Pepsi. When adjusted for inflation, the deal was one of the most profitable in hip-hop history, rivaling current endorsement deals by current hip-hop performers.
Ludacris appeared in a Pepsi commercial aimed at racial minorities. Shakira, a Colombian-born artist, was also featured in the commercial. As soon as the advertisement aired, it drew condemnation from some American viewers.
The rapper was chastised for using vulgar language and making references to dangerous narcotics. According to the Los Angeles Times, Fox News Channel contributor Bill O’Reilly criticized PepsiCo for being “immoral” for hiring Ludacris.
“I’m calling for all responsible Americans to fight back and punish Pepsi for using a man who degrades women, who encourages substance abuse, and does all the things that hurt particularly the poor in our society,” he reportedly said.
Under pressure, Pepsi pulled Ludacris’ ad, saying that it had received complaints about Ludacris’ obscene rap lyrics.
“We have a responsibility to listen to our consumers and customers and we’ve heard from a number of people who were uncomfortable with our association with this artist,” the company said in a statement. “We’ve decided to discontinue our ad campaign with this artist and we’re sorry that we’ve offended anyone.”
Hip-hop activists condemned Pepsi’s decision, requesting that the ad be reinstated and $5 million donated to the Ludacris Foundation. They also increased their demand by threatening to boycott Pepsi.
In a recent interview, Ludacris stated that the incident was the most difficult time of his career. He accused O’Reilly of arranging the endorsement deal’s demise.
“‘Most challenging career moment that you survived,’ first thing that comes to mind is Bill O’Reilly talking mess and making me lose my Pepsi endorsement, which is very ironic because years later, if you look it up, he came and he lost his job based off some sexual allegations,” Ludacris told Men’s Health during an episode of “The Rewind,” according to Finurah.
“So, it’s very funny how the world works and the world turns. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why a company like Pepsi would sign me, and just because this man had something to say about me on television, they dropped me from it,” he said.
More than two decades after the incident, Ludacris said he has rebuilt his relationship with Pepsi.
“…My relationship with Pepsi is now back and strong as ever. We’re helping the community together through my foundation, The Ludacris Foundation. So again, everything comes full circle and works out the way that it’s supposed to,” Ludacris said.