Why 'Top Gun' Sold Out to a Soda Company

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Mustang Top Gun Diet Pepsi
"Mustang" bears a striking resemblance to some guy called "Maverick." (Pepsi)

Here's a controversy from ancient times. Back when "Top Gun" was headed to home video in January 1987, Diet Pepsi marketers had a big idea and pitched it to the movie's producers and Paramount Pictures.

The soda giant would pay to have a Diet Pepsi commercial added to the VHS release of "Top Gun" and also promote the movie by airing the ads on television.

The commercial above features "Mustang," a young aviator who bears a striking resemblance to Maverick. He's got the same attitude issues, and his wingmen have decided to play a prank, gluing his Diet Pepsi bottle into the cupholder and disrupting his Refreshment System.

Mustang says "No problem" to himself, pops off the bottle cap and initiates an inverted flight maneuver to pour his drink into a coffee cup. The prank fails, and Maverick's Mustang's rebel cred stays intact. He also keeps his trim figure by sticking to the sugar-free stuff.

The movie business was still getting used to the idea that people would actually like to own copies of a film and not just rent them from the recently opened Blockbuster Video Stores chain. When the home video rental business started, the list price for a VHS tape was close to $100, so that studios could get their share of that $3 per night rental income.

A few savvy distributors understood that people might actually buy a tape if the price dropped low enough, thus expanding the sales market from a few thousand video stores to millions of Americans. The miracle of arithmetic reveals that 50,000 copies sold at $30 will generate more than eight times more income than 2,000 copies sold only to video stores at $90.

Still, $30 was a lot of money in 1987, and the internet's inflation calculators suggest that it's more like $77 in today's money. Pepsi's ad purchase lowered the retail price by $3 and, in exchange, its commercial aired before the movie on the tape.

Somehow, as Paramount has reissued the movie a dozen times on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD disks, this one has stayed in the vault, making it a rare piece of "Top Gun" history.

Since most of us have never heard of this practice, it's safe to assume that the idea of tacking commercials onto VHS tapes never really took off, but we still have this amazing '80s artifact to remind us of soda in glass bottles and the massive cultural impact of Maverick's need for speed.

(Note to younger readers: VHS was a videotape format that people used before DVDs were invented. Pro: You could also buy blank tapes and record movies and shows airing on television. Con: All the images were really fuzzy, especially if your tape heads weren't aligned. Since no one had a widescreen TV in 1987, movies were chopped to fit the 4:3 screen ratio, and viewers definitely didn't get the whole picture.)

(Additional note for our youngest readers: DVDs were digital silver discs that looked like CDs and featured a sharper image than VHS tapes. CDs were digital silver discs that replaced LPs as the most popular music format. We hear LPs are back, so we won't explain those here.)

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