Pepsi and sign owner react: activists alter “Welcome to PEPSITOWN” billboard to read “Welcome to LOVETOWN”

Photo from Love Town spokesperson

This article has been updated. The original article was published on Wednesday, April 1.

An anonymous group of people who say they “love Asheville” painted over a prominent Pepsi billboard near downtown Asheville last night, Tuesday, March 31. The graffitists renamed Asheville “LOVETOWN” instead of “PEPSITOWN,” in an effort to urge Pepsi — and the community — to rethink the sign’s contents for the future.


Although the stunt was performed in anticipation of April Fools Day, the responsible party says, “We’re not joking when it comes to keeping the heart and soul of Asheville alive and free from being owned.”

“This news will … help people understand our intention to reclaim our town from those corporate interests who dare to claim it,” says one of the group’s anonymous members. “While we all know that the vast majority of wealth in this world is owned by corporations, most corporations do not stick it in our faces every day as we drive to work. We trust that this act of reclaiming the heart and soul of our town will stimulate a conversation about who and what this town really represents.”

The Love Town group says they did not contact Pepsi before painting the billboard.

“We expect the heartfelt people of Asheville to rally in support of keeping Asheville “LoveTown” over “PepsiTown,” says the representative. “The cat is out of the bag. If Pepsi now chooses to cover ‘Love’ over with ‘Pepsi,’ we trust that this will not be popular in Asheville.”


“We had a pretty good chuckle about it. I sent it to my wife,” says Moore Patton, corporate marketing manager for Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Hickory and creator of the “PEPSITOWN” billboard.

“But our intent is not what they think,” he says. “We’re a family owned business that has been here since 1928, and we’ve been involved with Asheville for years. [The sign] is a word play. I developed it. It was nothing more than just advertising Pepsi and trying to associate our relationship with Asheville, because Asheville has been mighty good to us.” Patton says he brought the phrasing to Asheville after seeing it used in another Pepsi territory.

Patton’s bottling company is not part of PepsiCo Inc., but rather a purchaser of the corporation’s syrup concentrate. The office in Hickory oversees four distribution warehouses that deliver the fizzy drink to 17 Western North Carolina counties.

“We’ve got 350 employees in our company, and every single one of them is well-paid, they raise families, they’re active in the community,” says Patton. “As a company, I’d like to think we’ve given back and will continue to give back to the Asheville community in a lot of ways.”

Patton says that he thinks it’s “a minority of people” taking a stand against his company — not Asheville as a whole. Although, he’s not yet sure who will foot the bill for replacing the billboard, his team is already busy brainstorming new “win-win” designs which “will make everybody happy.”

For now, though, commuters will have to cozy up to the scarlet letters.

“We’re not going to take it down immediately. We kind of like it,” Patton says. “They did a wonderful job with the artwork.”


Rick Steele, general manager at Fairway Outdoor Advertising of Greenville, SC — the company who owns the billboard — says Fairway will pay to replace the advertisement “in the near future.”

“It will be our cost,” Steele says, adding that the restoration will prompt a “significant” expense for the company. “The land that that sign is on is not our property. We are leasing that, so not only is it trespassing, but it’s vandalism.” Steele’s company, however, will not prompt an investigation of the case “at this time,” he says.

Xpress could not reach the relevant property owners to confirm whether or not Love Town’s presence on their land was, indeed, unauthorized.

“This sort of thing happens periodically in the business, and we don’t want to make a huge deal out of it. We’ll just move forward,” Steele says, but “if it happens again, we’ll certainly consider our options.”

“We’re not a big fan of that idea — having our billboards painted on — but it was mutually agreed upon [with Patton] that we need to change it out,” says Steele. “I’m not exactly sure what date or if the message is going to change. That is to be determined.”

Steele says the event was “absolutely not” a publicity stunt, as far as he knows.

The Asheville Police Department has not yet responded to Xpress’ inquiries.

Here is the original news release from the “Love Town” spokesperson:

Have you noticed the giant billboard just West of downtown Asheville on HWY 240 declaring Asheville to be “PepsiTown”? If so, maybe you, like thousands of others, have wondered what gave a corporation the right to declare Asheville their town?

Last night, we who love Asheville, transformed “Welcome to PepsiTown” into “Welcome to LoveTown” by writing Love on top of Pepsi on the Pepsi billboard. We expect that as hundreds of people drive into Asheville today, they will experience a heartfelt smile knowing that they are driving into the town they love.

It may be April fools day, but we’re not joking when it comes to keeping the heart and soul of Asheville alive and free from being owned.

We love the mountains, the rivers, the magic and the heartfelt people of Asheville. So, if this town is to be described in one word, we believe that love is a more fitting description than Pepsi.

To Pepsi we suggest keeping the love and smiles alive by continuing to sponsor this “LoveTown” billboard. After all, can’t love and Pepsi coexist? The whole town will know that you’re behind it (actually underneath it). We can all appreciate a company run by people who know in their hearts that love is the “Real Thing” over and above any brand or product.

We invite residents of Asheville to contact Pepsi and encourage them to continue to keep the Love in this town and on the billboard. You can email their media relations office at

Keep drinking in the love Asheville. We love you.

About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

45 thoughts on “Pepsi and sign owner react: activists alter “Welcome to PEPSITOWN” billboard to read “Welcome to LOVETOWN”

  1. Changing it back will not be popular in Asheville? F-you! How about you people respect private property and stop marking up every damn wall and sign in this town. How about you show some love and stop crapping up our city.

    • Choya Harden

      I couldn’t have said it better NCMattJ! it sickens me to see all the graffiti and vandalism in this town. These people that criminally vandalized the Pepsi billboard ( or any other billboard for that matter ) have no respect for others and do not love Asheville. If they are so passionate about this city, maybe they should pay for their own billboard to spread their message….

      • ken

        F U Pepsi! There ain’t no room for a Pepsi Town sign with LOVE written on top of Pepsi. There used to be a nice sky view there before some jack hole put up a bill board and decided to rent out our space! We don’t need Pepsi or corn syrup or inflammation or addiction or diabetes or any other crap in perfectly good water! Oh, and Pepsi, dissolve your fracking investments so you don’t double screw our water supply! Some day, some kid might thank you for that.

        • ken

          PS: this means tear down the billboard altogether! No more advertising for nothing but blue sky. Go the eff outside!!!!

    • Ano Nymous

      ^^ NCMatt.

      Do you even live here? Do you like thinking of your town as being owned by a soda company? This sign was a disgrace to Asheville, and with this new alteration it more accurately reflects who we are — not corporate sellouts that will put up with some sugar dealers ‘tagging’ our entire city.

      • Choya Harden

        Ano Nymous, FYI NCMattJ is a local business owner in downtown Asheville. Who are you? A billboard doesn’t confer ownership of a town, but the criminal activity by the graffiti vandals is far more reprehensible than a business trying to advertise its product legitimately on a billboard. How would you like it if your business or signage, or your own home or property was tagged? Would you be ok with that?

        • Ano Nymous

          My city was tagged – by a company who’s sole purpose is to get everyone addicted to sugar water and then sell it to them for a large profit. Do you really want a company like that literally claiming that it OWNS Asheville? And by extension everyone that lives there including you? Do you like to feel like pepsico OWNS you? Because that’s what this billboard says.

          And to answer your question. If I was ignorant enough to make a sign as inane and brainrotting as that huge and festering eyesore of an advertisement, I would deserve to have my property “vandalized” in such a manner. It is much better this way and I have no sympathy for the money grabbing sellout who decided this pepsitown turd of an idea was worth more than two seconds of consideration. Great job nailing down your target audience, pepsi – you are truly a picture of failure.

          • leftist pansies

            Spoken like a true leftist, socialist, anti-capitalist, windbag!

          • Share your name, what you do and how you are involved before using digital anonymity to blast someone who promotes, instills and truly provides culture to asheville. If you dont think art and entertainment are not a part of asheville as Matt brings to the city through his store and community organizing i would double check your status as an ashevillian as we all care and want to keep Asheville Weird.

          • alive

            It’s okay to have a bunch of drunken idiots in Asheville, but have a Pepsi sign is somehow ruining our town. Your priorities are so mixed up. How about you complain about the white-water park that is being proposed for the town or the apartment complexes and hotels that are being built in every bit of land that is available. That is much more of an eyesore than a billboard.


      Yeah, NCMattJ, way to go! Let’s make a flashing neon Walmart sign right on top of it, too!
      /*Lights up my illegal Cuban cigar and tosses it into the animal shelter’s cat food bin* MMM Smell that? Smell that? Love the smell of Capitalism in the morning.

      • Another comment not understanding the conversation. Try owning a business and then perhaps you will understand. Sure, Pepsi Co will no doubt be able to afford the redo, if they choose to redo it, but Matt is talking from all points, small to corporate.

    • Ray Downs

      Good point Matt. Unfortunately your tone is as repulsive as the sign. Since you raised the vandalism /graffitti argument, I would like to take this moment to remind Fairway and Pepsi about local statutes stating the admittance of fines for proprietors who refuse to remove unsightly graffitti within seven days.

  2. John

    Could you find a more pointless thing to do to help Asheville than to climb a billboard and write Love? Instead can I recommend helping out at one of the many soup kitchens or just take some trash bags and go around town cleaning the sides of the roadways. I don’t think painting love on a billboard for a corporate soda does anything to help the poor, to help the environment, or to help the living standards of this town. And I feel any billboard downtown should be torn down not turned in to “lovetown” that is no better than a soda town… Why do people work so hard at stuff that is pointless, when we need more people helping each other, we need real “love” for the entire community (yes even the poor people we far too often ignore) not a billboard advertising our “lovetown” on the side of a highway. I’ve lived in Asheville for 30 years and I drive by that sign often, but I don’t remember the last time I paid any attention at all to it…

    • Slappy Cat

      John, your comment is the most intelligent response I have read. I can’t understand why anyone would actually think that billboard claims ownership of Asheville by Pepsi. Whoever is behind this sounds like a bunch of bored 12 year olds. There truly are so many real problems to be proactive about, they chose a meaningless sign.

      Personally, the way they put the love, I now read it as Love Pepsitown.

    • Karl Bonger

      You seriously think the only thing these people do is write on billboards? Do you know who they are or how they spend their time? How do you know they arent involved in soup kitchens, community gardens, or something? Based on their writing they understand activist culture and probably are involved in other ways.

      I can turn you assumptions on you. I bet all you do is write on here. You should go help at Mana food bank.

      • John

        My point being that people (alot of people) worry and spend time focusing on relatively non-important issues that have almost no significance on anyone’s lives, just look at what CNN or FOX reports on. The real issues that we all should be dedicating our spare time doing, (things like feeding and helping the poor) go completely unreported. I agree that we should ban all billboards in the city limits, but we need way way more attention on the real issues that affect everyone, life or death issues, not glorifying someone for vandalism with an article in a somewhat respected paper (remember xpress gets its funding from ads too, just like fairway billboards). Where are the articles about the poor people being run out of Asheville because the can no longer afford the costs of living? Maybe one article in the past year… Where are the investigative reporters that papers use to have? Now that Gannett owns half of the newsprint in this country? Why is a paper that acts like a “news” paper only cater to “entertainment”? And the only thing this article or that act of vandalism probably accomplished is that Pepsico will spend even more on PR in our area to counter the negative publicity.

  3. Local Chef

    I am a proprietor who sales Pepsi and has dealt with the local family owned company for years. I can tell you that in no way is Pepsi tagging the city or taking ownership of Asheville. This billboard is simply stating that Pepsi wants to be #1 in Asheville. Their owners and employees live right here in Asheville and the surrounding communities and they DO LOVE ASHEVILLE AND EVERYONE IN IT! The people who defaced the billboard didn’t say anything about it over the years when Pepsi was using it to promote tourism in the city via The Asheville Tourists or other community based events. Instead of damaging private property, the anonymous activist group should have contacted the local Pepsi Bottler (who by the way is NOT PART OF PEPSICO.) I know the family that owns the local Pepsi Franchise, they would have considered any thoughtful suggestions. No offense to the anonymous group, but you have acted on assumptions. Pepsi and a lot of other companies are a large part of this town! Many, many of them have helped Asheville and charity organizations within the city over the years. Know the facts before you act.

  4. Sondra

    Correct me if i’m wrong but I dont think our local Pepsi distributer is owned by Pepsico. I am pretty sure they are owned by a local family who are heavily involved with local charities.

    • Local Chef

      You are correct Sondra. One more point…would the anonymous artists have a problem if the sign said “Beer City”? Those shirts and stickers are all over Asheville. I bet not. Probably not even if an individual national beer company made the same statement on a billboard.

    • Person29830

      Nothing enriches a community like sugar water! Maybe this explains the low tooth-per-capita in Buncombe.

  5. Jonathan Austin

    Whenever I saw the sign I momentarily wondered who Pepsit was, and what did they own?

  6. LoveTown

    I feel so much happiness imagining all the people coming through this land seeing this sign and smiling while perhaps thinking, “Ahahaha, this is totally right on!” or, “Well I rather like Pepsi, and LoveTown is where I am? Well hippity-doo, this is turning out to be a FANTASTIC DAY!”
    This action will surely provoke many well warranted responses over the coming season(s) as there are bound to be several conversations to follow in the wake. It will most likely influence some opposing viewpoints and create the container for debate over the intention and idealism that attracts this type of public statement. There are those who will giggle in delight at its simple beauty and profound meaning just as there are those who will see only slightly skewed lines of red paint and respond with skepticism and the occasional cruel remark. Either way, when we begin to see underneath the symbols themselves into the truest authentic meaning, we may experience our hearts and subconscious minds finding alignment with a thing that makes us feel only the goodness in life. We shall certainly find out next time we experience either Love or Pepsi or both.
    I am excited to see and hear the communities response to this warming sentiment. We live in a town where Love is the main ingredient? I can get up with that. smile emoticon Thank you brave love pioneers.

    • Love Town

      Note to community – The above post made using the posting name “LOVE TOWN” was not made by anyone involved in the direct action of changing PEPSI TOWN into LOVE TOWN.

  7. Kevin

    It may be owned by a local family, but the Pepsi billboard is obnoxious, and unnecessary. Everyone knows about the company Pepsi (since 1928). Obviously they have established themselves in the city of Asheville and in 17 counties. Who needs a billboard? There are plenty of cities that have banned billboards in the order to preserve the obstruction of natural scenery, which is what the size of the words themselves are doing in the advertisement by the way. It shouldn’t have been vandalized. It shouldn’t have been there. Just my thought on the topic.

  8. jon kramer

    I read that the distributor was brainstorming ideas for a win win. Would it be possible for them to sponser an open competition for local artists to submit ideas? That could also help celebrate Asheville’s close association with the arts. And, by using local talent it would be a more heartfelt expression of our community.

  9. The Wild Heart

    Although we as a community respect the fact that the Billboard is owned locally and supports over 350 families in our area with sustainable employment, the product being produced and sold is killing millions of people every year across the globe. The GMO, High-Fructose Corn Syrups and Food Coloring have been directly linked to Heart Disease, Diabetes, Kidney Disease, as well as all forms of Cancers. Sadly this cooperation is advertising something that could potentially cut down life spans, creating very costly and painful end to real peoples lives.

    We have tried collectively to bring public awareness to this issue since the 1980’s, yet more and more people are lied to and poisoned by the glimmer of advertising. As a conscious collective we have chosen for many years not to give money to these institutions, to settle into a geographical area with others that share this awareness and to create our own world outside of the Matrix. For years we have been working for the greater good in soup kitchens, clothing the poor and helping pick up the garbage laying on the street. We have sent letters to those corporations that are creating painful deaths in hopes they would change. We have elected officials in hopes that they would truly speak for the people and have been disappointed in the lack of promise keeping. And still we have decided to look the other way and continue to build our own world by supporting local businesses that sell healthy products. By not putting those poisons into our bodies and not buying into these toxic systems that have consumed our nation.

    By putting up a large billboard as one drives into downtown declaring this PEPSI-TOWN, they are also unknowingly telling the conscious collective that have chosen to be of part of the this community “You are owned by a toxic cooperation, like it or not.” We as a community didn’t vote or have any say in this statement have been offended for months. Some of us have reached out to Pepsi in hopes of resolving this eye-sore, only to have our requests denied or fall on deaf ears and our inquires getting lost in bureaucratic red tape or shoved under the rug; all in the name of profits.

    When the East India Company and the British Government imposed an unfair tea tax in the 1770s, the American colonists tried for months to resolve the issue with no results. It was only when the Sons of Liberty stood up in an act of rebellion by throwing boxes of tea into Boston Harbor that it brought awareness and change. What does it take in today’s distracted and apathetic insufficient society to create a true change?

    Asheville is not “Pespi-Town” nor have the people had a chance to vote on this. If this town, this community of amazing people had to put a one-word label on this amazing city we live in it would be “Love”. And I applaud these bringers of truth to lift the corporate veils of profitable death and doing with the spirit of our revolutionary fore-fathers. It takes balls to bring true social awareness and change.

    • N

      “If this town, this community of amazing people had to put a one-word label on this amazing city we live in it would be “Love””

      Have you done some sort of scientific poll to reach this conclusion? If show, please share. Otherwise you are making asumptions.

      There are LOTS of things people in Asheville have not voted on. How many hotels we will have, how many craft breweries we should have, whether or not we should be called “Beer City” (a silly online poll does not count) and whether or not we should be overrun by self righteous hipsters are just a few of them.

      This silly billboard is irrelevant to all of that and if you care about this city and community as much as you claim there are many ways for you to show it then by fixating on a pointless advertising gimmick.

    • Ignore this

      Alcohol has been tied to liver disease and depression but we have no problem promoting it because it’s the cool thing right now, right? Why should we even pay attention to details of everything when we can fight the corporations, man!

      In case you’re not getting it, this is a joke pointing out that everything has its faults in excess and its up to individuals to moderate themselves what they take into their bodies. Don’t blame a company for something that people can have control over (for the most part, considering diseases are genetically linked to increased chances of having them. I know, I have one.)

      Here’s some sources for you too.

  10. If you don’t like the billboard, call the local Pepsi distributor and complain. If you don’t like the billboard being there in general, contact Fairway Outdoor (a local company that employs tons of people in high paying jobs) and complain…or complain to your elected officials. But DON’T deface someone else’s property. How would you feel if someone didn’t like the color of your house and spray painted the color they liked on the side of it? What if they did not like your look or the color of your skin or your political beliefs and spray painted a derogatory term on your garage door?

  11. The “LOVE” lettering is so perfect , part of me thinks this is all a publicity stunt paid for by Pepsi. As in, Pepsi decides to leave it, and everybody loves them for being so “cool” about it, blah blah blah. I’m ever suspicious of corporations. They pretend to be human sometimes.

    Moore Patton, corporate marketing manager for Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Hickory is credited above as the “creator of the ‘PEPSITOWN’ billboard,” and quoted as saying:

    “We’re not going to take it down immediately. We kind of like it,” Patton says. “They did a wonderful job with the artwork.”

    He goes on to say:

    “[The “PEPSITOWN” phrase] is a word play. I developed it. It was nothing more than just advertising Pepsi and trying to associate our relationship with Asheville, because Asheville has been mighty good to us.”

    Yet, I found evidence (A photo posted to Tumblr) showing that Eugene Oregon was also “branded as Pepsitown” in 2013. That picture is posted to my FaceBook and Twitter accounts right now.

    Everything about this story smells like a corporate publicity scheme to me, and I wonder if the MoutainX could follow-up on the Oregon signage and Mr. Patton’s claim that he came up with the phrase. Did he come up with it in 2013? While working in Oregon?

    I have offered to interview any of the “LOVE activists” for, but so far no one has come forward, so I would like to use this forum to put the message out to the “Lovetown spokesperson” who wrote “the original news release,” or anyone who was actually involved with painting the word “LOVE” on the sign, please contact me through FaceBook. I’d love to hear from you!

    • Kat McReynolds

      Thank you to everyone who has commented thus far. I’ve updated the story to clear up Patton’s claim. He mentioned that he saw the phrase in another Pepsi market and decided to apply it to Asheville because it was fun and eye-catching.

    • Local Chef

      Mr. Patton says that he brought the phrase here after seeing it in another territory…maybe Eugene, Oregon…..
      Read the article.

      • Kat McReynolds

        Local Chef — I wrote the article. That sentence is the “update” I was referring to in my comment.

    • Love Town

      Stu, Thanks for attempting to contact us, although no one involved with the LOVE TOWN action is aware of any message from you. Feel free to email us at Perhaps we can stimulate some discussion about moving on to a new billboard message that is not offensive and is perhaps sponsored by a community organization (see our comment on this below).

      As to this whole action being a covert Pepsi marketing stunt – you are giving them far too much credit :-) Perhaps Pepsi will recognize that their sign, apparently like the one in Eugene, offended the community and needs to go. Our hope is that the community rallies around this issue and rather than leaving it to Pepsi and their “team” to provide their solution comes up instead with a true community solution and message.

  12. Love Town

    Note to community – The above post made using the posting name “LOVE TOWN” was not made by anyone involved in the direct action of changing PEPSI TOWN into LOVE TOWN.

    As the group that did plan and implemented this change, we understand and appreciate the concerns voiced by those who object to the billboard being painted over without prior attempts to have it changed by lobbying or appeal and or breaking law. It raises the question – is it ever justified to break the letter of the law.

    While Pepsi had the legal right to place a message on the billboard by paying for it. Do they really have the “right” to put a message in the public space and in our face that many, including us, found to be offensive and obscene? Was the act of Pepsi putting this unapproved proclamation of PEPSI TOWN in our faces an illegitimate act to begin with and therefore not a legitimate public statement deserving of protection?

    Before this action we also pondered how many laws Gandhi, Martin Luther King and other activist technically violated to advance a greater good. By our count is was many and they did plenty of jail time. In the end those of us who did the action felt that the benefits were worth the potential cost of arrest and legal prosecution. We were and still are prepared to pay the price for this action if need be.

    Perhaps we should have first tried creating a public petition and presented it to the sign company, Pepsi, the city etc. But given the reactions and discussion generated by this direct action it does appear that a constructive outcome – a “win-win” and an unoffensive message is now in the works. Perhaps it will remain “Welcome to LOVE TOWN” but with even better art work ;-)

    We expect that this action, what ever the outcome, will remain controversial with us and the Asheville community.

    While we welcome Mr. Patton and his team’s willingness to create a billboard that “will make everybody happy”, perhaps it’s time for a new billboard that doesn’t represent any particular company or product but rather represents Asheville itself. Such a new welcome billboard might be sponsored by the city or the visitor bureau, chamber of commerce, or a civic organization.

    In any case, it’s become evident that the previous “Welcome to PEPSI TOWN” sign is not serving the community or Pepsi.

    Ultimately, regardless of who sponsors the billboard, it would be wonderful to have a billboard message that everyone loves to see as they enter Asheville.

  13. Love Town

    We’d like to point out that while Rick Steele, the general manager at Fairway Outdoor Advertising, who owns the billboard is reported as saying that Fairway will pay to replace the advertisement “in the near future“ at a “significant” expense, it is reported in the Citizen’s Times that Mr. Patton with Pepsi said that the sign was over due for replacement anyways. “They change the billboard out about twice a year anyway, and this particular version has been up for seven months. So, it’s due for a change, Patton said.”

    We agree that this offensive sign is long over due for replacement, but with a new message that does not proclaim ownership of Asheville. If Pepsi chooses to replace the current billboard yet again with “Welcome to PEPSITOWN” that would be an even bigger PR blunder and offense to the Asheville community, which this community would take sitting down.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.