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Here I go again about Pepsi Refresh.  Broken record,  I know. And please don’t think me a geeze for seemingly dis’ing media socialists and their heartfelt efforts to do good’s work on behalf of brands. (Liberal I am.)  But count the likes and clicks and friends and authenticity and opacity and, and, and in the soda category this week and two numbers stick out: Coke’s North American volume is up 3% and Pepsi’s is up 1%.  2 percentage points in market research may not seem like a lot, but in a billion dollar consumer business that some serious.  Especially in the much attacked sugar water marekt. Right Michelle?

Coke’s earning, announced this week, were kicking on all cylinders. First time in a long time. And Pepsi’s were down, overall.  No wonder Pepsi chief Indra K. Nooyi took a couple on the chin in the analysts call.   To be read in a whining voice “Commodity prices, really killed us. Considering the economy we did gre- ate.”  Well watch Mad Men.  Commodity prices have always been a problem for which one must be prepared.  Playing with pop marketing tactics, not well integrated into your core value prop or linked to an ersatz brand plank, do not a great earnings report make.  Head down. Sell soda. Peace!

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I was just reading about the new Pepsi Challenge. It will take place primarily in social media, using Usher, Serena Williams, other personalities and web denizens. From a strategy point of view the only thing I can glean is that the goal is to blend “social responsibility with social culture.” Forgive me but isn’t this “Pepsi Refresh” 4 years later? This time just with expensive spokespeople? Packaged using an old campaign line from twenty years ago?

It almost feels like they rushed the story to market half-baked to beat some Coke announcement or poor earnings report. The effort is going to cost millions globally and, no doubt, will do some good. It may even sell a few cases. But the whole campaign feels very social media bandwagon and derivative. More importantly, it’s non-endemic to the product. Something McDonalds could easily do.

I’m not feeling this marketing effort and suspect it will be nice window dressing for the Pepsi corporate offices and its ad agencies; as for taking a chunk out of Coke’s hide, not going to happen. What’s the Idea?


PS. For WTI posts on Pepsi Refresh, click here. 


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PepsiCo is managing its broad portfolio and having issues. If you put all the brand managers from all the Pepsi brands (Frito Lay, fast food, etc.) into MetLife Stadium (referred to with a smile as “the snoop”), it might fill the lower level of seats.  With all those people gathering paychecks wouldn’t you think someone might come up with a new line of drink to help grow the soda business which is flat, flat, flat?

Water is done. Orange-flavored drinks done. Energy drinks done-ish. Teas still have some upside, but corporate knows putting the pedal down will cannibalize the sugar water business. So what’s next? Pepsi needs to be as innovative as the tech sector. It needs to travel the world for the next cool flavor. And let’s start with flavor before we delve into the nutritional benefits – which are very important but secondary if trying to grow the drink market.  Pepsi’s CEO Indra Nooyi should empty the building in Purchase, NY and send people packing for 3 months – on global expeditions to find the next flavor. It’s out there, we just forgot to look.  Can you say cola nut?

I enjoy ranting about Pepsi Refresh.  What a mess!  What a lucky marketing tactic for Coke. Could Pepsi have selected anything more non-endemic to the brand?  The only thing endemic is the word refresh, which they stole from Coke. But ironically, they’re using the reboot definition.  Ms. Nooyi find a new flavor!  Don’t build us a playground.  Build us a new drink to grow the category. Peace!

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Pepsi Give Away.

I wrote recently about Pepsi’s 2010 decision to not run Super Bowl ads in favor the “Pepsi Refresh” project — a corporate effort to take the $20 million it usually spends and fund social projects like new playgrounds, high school band uniforms, etc.  The money would be distributed via a social media circus taking place on Facebook and Twitter.  

Apparently there were over 77 million votes registered in the ether, 120,000 idea submissions and 400 winners to date. The only losers seem to be TBWA/Chiat Day who helped come up with the dog of an idea and Pepsi itself, who saw sales drop 6% in a category that slipped 4.3%.  That’s a delta of 1.7% for those who are counting.    

“True that” I’m all about companies doing go.  But in order to do good, one must be a thriving brand.  Pepsi is not. Colorful, yes. Stylish, yes.  Happy and friendly, dittos. It’s not even holding its own in a tough sugar water market.

Pepsi Refresh was a bold step. Stealing refresh from Coke was an interesting notion. But marketing is about selling. Head of Pepsi Digital, Shiv Singh, says the project was “an investment to build brand awareness and cultivate a long term relationship with consumers. It was designed to drive brand health.”  Let’s get back to brand strategy Pepsi. That’s where health is…not in media strategy. Peace!

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Pepsi ReFunk

Okay I could be tripping and correct me if I ‘m wrong, but wasn’t the Pepsi Refresh Project going to be funded by taking money normally put into Super Bowl ads and reallocated to well-meaning projects around the world.  You know – “Come on world, tell us how you want us to spend our money and we’ll refresh the planet!!!”

I’m all for doing good, or as I wrote in a strategy for Bailey’s Café in Bed-Stuy “doing good’s work”, but the whole Pepsi Refresh thing seems a little off.  Like a big advertising application in search of a product.  Anyway, I read today that Pepsi has a number of spots on the Super Bowl.  And the two most recent posts on the Pepsi Refresh Facebook page are from 17 hours ago and Tuesday.   

I “like” Pepsi’s refresh advertising, its intent and its lovely imagery, I’m just not so sure I want to vote for Pepis with my mouth.  (Drink it, that is.) Isn’t that the point?  And please, don’t tell me the category is mature and everyone knows what Pepsi is  – a similarly expressed sentiment, from earlier this week in a Tostitos article. 

Refresh should be moved to the corporate side of the business – kept alive and funded – but let’s refresh the strategy and move some cases. (The Coke people probably don’t agree.) Peace.

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coca beans

Rant time. My bad, it’s Friday. Pepsi’s sales, it was reported yesterday, were weaker-than-expected caused by lower soft drink sales in North America. Interestingly, Pepsi Cola just finished a big brand redesign which was well received by the design, advertising and brand planning communities; the latter community acknowledging the work at the recent Jay Chiat Awards in NYC. I am a dissenter when it comes to this new Pepsi strategy, which revolves around the idea “Refresh.” Pepsi’s strategy celebrates refresh more for the computer definition than the thirst-quenching definiton. Hello? Is anyone paying attention? Refreshment is Coke’s strategy.

Anyway, both Coke and Pepsi — but Coke in particular — need to focus advertising not on culture but on the ability for colas to truly quench a thirst. Nothing in the world can quench a thirst like a Coke. It creates a jolt, a satisfying, smile-provoking recoil for the thirsty drinker. Here’s a test strategic account planners: get out of the building and walk a trail in the hot sun for 8 hours. Have someone meet you at the trail’s end with a Coke in one hand a Gatorade in the other. See which your arm reaches for. (Only physicists will grab a Gatorade.)

Colas are under fire from waters, energy drinks and teas. They need to fight back. And fight back with all the syrupy, coca-ey, carbonation demonstrations at their disposal. Cola growth in the third world is strong because those consumers know that Coke and Pepsi refresh like nothing else. In the US we’ve lost sight of that. Come on people, stop over-thinking this stuff. Cultural refresh indeed! Peace.

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If ever a brand owned an idea it was Coca Cola. McCann-Erickson got it. Early Coke brand managers got it. The people definitely got it. The idea was “refreshment.” Coke ads made you feel in your bones the total and utter refreshment from its unique, thirst-quenching taste. 

(Not a big Coke drinker, I once came off the Appalachian Trail parched, craving a Coke. I found one and it was other-worldly.)

Pepsi which has always had smart marketers on its team realizes “refreshment” is Coke’s provenance and has for the most part stayed away. But today Pepsi is jumping on the word in its new “refresh everything” campaign tied to change in America.  As it is with much of Pepsi’s work, this is a borrowed interest approach (not based on an inherent product quality) so it won’t be that effective. And the consumer generated content side of the program is a bit weak. But Pepsi will spend so it may muddle the “refreshment” waters.  

Coke needs to defend its refreshment position and it needs to do it now. Get back to what refresh meant.  

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Someone posted a question yesterday on a forum asking if investing in social responsibility programs benefited brands.   The answer is yes. And in some cases no. It’s never a bad idea to do good. But doing good to mask or overshadow the bad a company does is not right.  I sit here typing in a tee shirt with the BP dandelion logo atop the line “We’re bringing oil to American shores.” BP is a joke. And long will be.


Dasani just announced a plastic bottle that is 30% plant based.  That’s 30% responsible and 30% good as it relates to biodegradability, but what we don’t know is if the process chews up more energy or emits more carbon.

Brand Meaning

As a brand advocate, I would answer the social responsibility question this way:  If the program is “brand meaningful” — if it makes a deposit in the brand bank — then it’s worth doing and celebrating. And supporting with paid media. If the program is not brand meaningful, say about child slavery, do it quietly and don’t feed the conversation. Just be proud to do Good’s work.


Brand Mask

The Pepsi Refresh project does good.  It impacts a lot of people who get access to funds.  But Pepsi could do a lot more to clean up itself environmentally and health-wise. Pepsi can do more good with a bigger purpose, footprint and impact than offering cheerleaders new uniforms or putting new bleachers on a little league field.  Is Pepsi Refresh masking? I prefer the Coca-Cola approach to social responsibility. They can do much more, but they don’t wear a mask. And they don’t try to build a sugar water movement around it. Peace!

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Kola House.

I like PepsiCo’s idea to launch a new theme restaurant in NYC called Kola House. It’s daring and smart. Especially for a carbonated soft drink in second place, losing year-over-year volume. Not every marketing issue can be fixed by advertising and it looks like Pepsi is trying some new things. This multimillion dollar bet should energize the brand and, more importantly energize the marketing team — something Pepsi sorely needs.

Using the Kola nut as their north star and Chelsea in NYC as their launch pad, Pepsi has a shot at adding relevance to a brand for millions of typically uninterested people. It’s an unfair fight in what once was a cola war and is, now, no longer. The learning and outputs of Kola House may have great impact on the business. A new drink. A new snack. Perhaps a new line of clothing or even a new app.

We’ll find out. When you change the game good things can happen. Dialing down the Pepsi, celebrating the Kola and creating a new experience is an exciting marketing test lab. Dare I say, it’s refreshing?


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Sales of the Coca-Cola Company dropped 3.6% this quarter. It seems the tide has turned.  The global sugar water growth that offset the diminished appetite for Coke in the U.S. has brought Coke’s growth back to earth. Pepsi saw this sales ding years ago. Coke has been getting into the healthier-for-you businesses for a while now but it looks as if they must really redouble their efforts. Healthier-for-you is the future.    

Big data will help Coke figure out where lost sales are going. Big data, used by CMS (Center for Medicare Services), will also show where unhealthy eating and drinking habits are happening. And by sharing this information with doctors and insurance companies it will pave the way for incentives for consumers to eat better. Much the way insurance costs go up for smokers. Gonna happen.

When you are Coke and your sales are off 3.6%, you need to “refresh” your thinking. (I smell a cold-pressed juice purchase in the near future.)

Pepsi is holding its own by dialing up salty snacks. What’s the opposite of healthier-for-you?

Now is the time. There should be and will be a marketing investment shake up in Atlanta. And “happiness,” the Wieden+Kennedy campaign?  Not likely to make it in its current form — not in this climate.


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