Pepsi Not Afraid To Take Chances But Marketing Feels Unchanged
I'm not sure whether to be flattered or creeped out that Pepsi's sponsored messages pop up in my… is "tweetline" the right word for it?... far more than those from other marketers. I'm flattered in that the Twitter algorithm can tell from my follows (Kathy Bates, Buick) and tweets ("Noticeable draft coming from garage window. Gonna grab the caulking gun and go to school on that bad boy!") that I am the human embodiment of youthful vibrancy, the longtime hallmark of the Pepsi brand. I'm creeped out in that Pepsi always manages to embed itself in my consciousness at the precise moment when I am most susceptible to fizzy-drink outreach (late afternoon, when I need a caffeinated pick-me-up). In conclusion, whoever's doing Pepsi's tweet-targeting should either be fired or promoted.
Anyway, the basic point remains: Pepsi does a far better job of getting in my virtual face than do brands with which I enjoy an actual relationship (e.g., I give Asics money, Asics gives me sneakers). And now, more than anything else in the whole wide world, Pepsi wants me to check out the "extended cut" of its most recent big-budget commercial. Does this mean that Pepsi has figured out what I do for a living and wants a cheap Video Critique pop, or is it just blasting out crap willy-nilly? Eh, what the hell, let's toss 'em a bone and watch.
In the 30-second version of "Now in a Moment," which debuted earlier this month, two comely young white people with cheekbones that could pop a balloon happen upon a Nicki Minaj concert, only to find the performers and concertgoers frozen in place. But then they pop open cans of Pepsi - conveniently tumbling out of a suspended-in-mid-disgorgement cooler - and the room and everyone in it comes to life. Thirst sated, the pair stage-dives and is embraced by the concertgoing horde, which collectively refrains from groping the short-skirted gal. Drink Pepsi, the now-est drink of them all. The end.
[The official YouTube description of the ad reads thusly: "A guy, a girl and two cans of Pepsi trigger one of the amazing experiences NOW has to offer - an epic concert with Nicki Minaj." If you remove the two adjectives, that's not inaccurate.]
But the shorter cut is merely the nacho quesadilla strips to the longer one's classic zesty ranch bacon chicken melt. The extended cut commences with our cheekboned protagonists happening upon a frozen street scene, which is populated by other comely young white people doing comely-young-white-people things (chillin', hangin' out, kickin' back). They dart through a van and find themselves on a beach, where a gaggle of soccer players are frozen in mid-kick and -gesticulation. Hey, is that a black guy? I think it is! They start running along the lip of the water and, improbably, are transported into what appears to be The Great Frozen-Attractive-Person Tomato Dodge Ball Fiesta Sponsored By Heinz. They get all ketchupy and whatnot, which serves them well when they emerge from behind the curtain at a frozen-Asian-model runway show, where they see either Dolly Parton or Ivana Trump and trade tomato-tarred clothes with the featured models.
Finally they find their way to the Minaj concert and the clip proceeds as it does in the shorter version. Nicki winks, Ivana/Dolly dances, the soccer guys score a goal and everyone uses his smart phone to set the DVR to record HBO's documentaries about the obesity epidemic in this country. Ha ha - no, nobody does that. Pepsi simply instructs us to "live for now," as opposed to "later" or "the day after later," and that's a wrap.
So yeah, the extended "Now in a Moment" hews close to Pepsi's traditional branding (music + youth + Pepsi = AWESOME AND NO CAVITIES). Similarly, the company should be commended for reinforcing its positioning at a time when comparable brands shift identities every nine months. That said, Pepsi's strategy of allying itself with the hitmaker of the moment has grown very, very tired. What we have here, then, is more of the same, rendered in a way that's 7,200 percent less thrilling and joyous than it was decades ago.
In my mind, Pepsi ranks as one of the few marketers that "gets it." In recent years, via the PepsiCo 10 program that aims to incubate tech and marketing startups, it has proven more open-minded and technologically adventurous than just about any other global-minded marketer. But its big-tent pitches, evinced by "Now in a Moment" and the bloated Super Bowl ad, feel labored and craggy. Maybe it's time for Pepsi to hand over more of the budget to its young-pup partners.