In adolescence many of us discovered that you can get "cool" points by not doing what other people are doing, not going where other people are going -- i.e., rebellion. Then, sometime later, we discovered that we were bored and lonely: being cool wasn't particularly glamorous when it was just you there underneath the bleachers. Reminiscent of this adolescent phase is Pepsi's ultra-cool snubbing of the Super Bowl on Sunday after over two decades as the event's top soft drink advertiser, leaving the field to Coca-Cola in favor of a social media, uh, thing -- the "Pepsi Refresh Project," which invites visitors to vote on proposals for non-profit charitable work to determine which ones get a piece of a $20 million grant from Pepsi.
This sounds like a very laudable project, but there are some questions that nag. First of all, why did the online effort for the Pepsi Refresh Project preclude advertising during the Super Bowl?
According to an article from Cox Newspapers, "PepsiCo insists that its retrenchment on the broadcast is not related to Coca-Cola's presence, or with the Super Bowl's value as a marketing vehicle. The company is trying to draw attention to the Pepsi Refresh Project." Huh? Wouldn't it attract more attention with a Super Bowl ad, than without?
Next question: while PepsiCo claims here the Super Bowl snub isn't related to the its "value as a marketing vehicle," there's also a USA Today article citing PepsiCo "executives saying the ad buy no longer makes sense for them when their target consumers are hanging out in digital space."
So, which is it: are you too good for school, or too cool for school?
Now, someone will probably hasten to point out that Pepsi has generated buzz simply by not advertising on the Super Bowl -- but how far can this buzz actually carry a brand? For example, do people who know that Pepsi didn't advertise on the Super Bowl also know about the online voting for charitable causes? Just how much of the story actually gets communicated via buzz? The USA Today article contained further mystifications, including a quote from one PepsiCo exec that future marketing "will be less about a moment, more about a movement." Excusing the slightly over-the-top comparison of soft drink choice to a social movement (this is after all a long-standing conceit, e.g., "the Choice of a New Generation") there are a couple problems with the distinction drawn here.
First of all, any "movement" -- be it a religious revival, a marketing campaign disguised as a charitable venture, whatever -- is composed of individual "moments." In fact, the word "moment" comes from the same Latin root as "movement" -- you can see the shared lineage in the word "momentum." Back in the day, an important development or occurrence was described as being "something of moment" not because it was transient and fleeting, but because it got things moving, provoked a reaction, made things happen, etc. And believe it or not this isn't just a linguistic quibble.
The fact is that big broadcast "moments" like the Super Bowl still matter, because they are special, unique events that draw the attention of tens of millions of people. And if a marketing campaign is indeed a "movement" composed of many "moments," that's all the more reason to exploit a really big moment like the Super Bowl to generate some momentum for the rest of the movement -- especially when you're trying to jumpstart a grassroots phenomenon through social media.
All of which leads me to conclude that the real reason Pepsi didn't advertise during the Super Bowl is because they're just too cheap -- a fine and very sensible reason, which makes a lot more sense than contradictory statements about its efficacy as a marketing vehicle.
Why, maybe they could even imply they needed to save money to pay for the grants! Cheapness posturing as charitable conscience -- a double whammy.