Brands often commission special vehicles to promote a new product or make a quality impression with a particular demographic. In conjunction with a major rebranding in 1996, Pepsi struck a deal with Air France to create a truly unique and inspiring marketing tool using one of the 20 Concorde aircraft in existence at the time.
Pepsi packaging, graphic design and visual branding has taken several distinct forms since the company was founded in the late 1800’s, and in the late 1990’s their 12oz. cans were primarily red and blue. The visual rebranding, for which the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde tail number F-BTSD (affectionately referred to as “Sierra Delta”) was utilized as a promotion surrogate for, was the most significant in the company’s history. This new high-profile can design was set to become electric blue in color, in stark contrast to Coca-Cola’s distinctive red cans.
While the total price that Pepsi paid for the privilege of flying their corporate colors on the Concorde remains confidential, paint jobs for heavy aircraft such as Boeing 747’s can cost in excess of $150,000. Also in 1996, Pepsi sent a giant inflatable aluminum and nylon can to the Russian Mir Space Station and filmed content for a commercial with Cosmonauts Yuri Vladimirovich Usachyov and Yuri Ivanovich Onufrienko. While the footage never aired, Pepsi reportedly paid between $600,000 and $5 million for the stunt.
Concordes operated in extreme environments at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet and sustained cruising speeds of 1,350 mph (Mach 2.04) and the aircraft’s skin was subject to immense pressures during supersonic flight. Due to heating of the airframe, Concordes actually stretched six to 10 inches during high-speed cruise.
Whether flying the colors of British Airways, Air France or Singapore Airlines, the Concorde required a specially formulated high reflectivity white paint scheme with minimal logos in order to dissipate as much heat as possible. Sierra Delta could not sustain Mach 2 speeds for more than 20 minutes as a result of the Pepsi livery, as the blue paint did not reflect or radiate heat as effectively as the standard white. However, there were no thermal issues with sustaining speeds up to Mach 1.7. The Pepsi livery wings retained their white color so as not to disrupt the temperature of the fuel stored within, although the Pepsi corporate typeface was applied on the slender delta wing’s upper surface.
Workers spent 2,000 hours and used 200 liters of blue paint to complete the task of repainting Sierra Delta in the new Pepsi scheme. The task of transforming Sierra Delta was completed at Air France’s maintenance facility at Paris Orly Airport in strict secrecy, with workers obscuring the completed paint job by covering the jet in brown wrapping paper.
It then flew to London’s Gatwick Airport under cover of darkness on the evening of March 31st, 1996 and upon landing it was promptly towed to the hangar where Pepsi would reveal the new branding. Hundreds of journalists assembled from 40 countries to cover the new branding’s big reveal and Pepsi had supermodels Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford as well as tennis phenom Andre Agassi on hand for the spectacle.
Under a special charter, the aircraft completed a tour consisting of 16 flights to 10 cities through Europe and the Middle East while wearing the unique Pepsi livery before returning to service in regular Air France colors.
Sierra Delta is a historically significant aircraft for several other reasons. In addition to briefly wearing the unique Pepsi livery, it was one of the final Concorde examples to be manufactured and benefited from advanced construction techniques such as titanium rivets that were used to “add lightness,” totaling 2050 pounds in total weight savings compared to her sister aircraft. It also holds both the westbound (32 hours 49 minutes and 3 seconds with six refueling stops) and eastbound (31 hours 27 minutes 49 seconds with six refueling stops) records for fastest round-the-world commercial flights.
The aircraft now resides on permanent display at The Museum of Air and Space in Le Bourget, France.
Photo credits: Top Pepsi livery shot - Richard Vandervord/Wikicommons, Middle Singapore Airlines livery shot - Steve Fitzgerald/Wikicommons, Bottom Air France livery shot - Pline/Wikicommons