Pepsi’s getting a lot of grief on social media today, in the wake of an ad featuring Kendall Jenner, marching along with political protesters. I agree with the complaints: It is kind of crass for a soda brand to align itself with serious political events to win new customers. Pepsi’s effort, however, is not a standalone, one-time thing for the company. Like many brands, Pepsi and its parent company, Pepsico, are looking for new ways to be relevant in an age of “unauthentic” positions and media fragmentation.
A couple of weeks ago, at ShopTalk 17, Pepsico SVP of Global Brand Development Kristin Patrick noted that Pepsi used to do just two big annual TV campaigns featuring the likes of a Britney Spears or Michael Jackson. Now – when you include social media — it produces 400 pieces of content per week.
“You have three seconds to connect” with a scrolling, social media oriented audience, said Patrick. “The brand lives across five screens. Successful brands define culture,” she added. “They don’t follow culture.”
In response, Patrick’s team at Pepsi has created a multi-channel “lifestyle ecosystem” that will work to make it relevant, and to exist alongside what is happening – instead of making parasitic, token efforts – as agencies had done when they tried to deal with other cultural issues. The ecosystem includes content, partnerships, experiences and licensing. “There is so much equity in our brands,” noted Patrick.
Among other things, its “brand re-frame” includes the hiring of a Chief Design Officer to rethink the vending machine experience. It has also gone father afield, taking charge of its own content by forming “the creators league studio, hence the Kendall Jenner commercial, as well as a short movie, Uncle Drew, that has been nominated for an Oscar (and just incidentally includes a Gatorade bucket dump.) It has also opened theme restaurants, like Cola House, and The Oatery, an oatmeal breakfast place with featuring chef-created, Quaker Oats recipes. It has also developed several apparel lines.
Ultimately, Pepsi is still selling bad-for-you soft drinks. But those are outsold by its other products, which now include Dasani water and health-oriented snacks. Generally, it wants to be a better partner with consumers. The effort is certainly state-of-the-art, and is a possible model for other brand companies. I say: go for it.