PepsiCo is not acting its age. And that's a good thing. Yes, given the Fortune 500 company's maturity, size and standing, it could be excused for carrying a bit of a paunch, and spending time, figuratively, on the marketing equivalent of a golf cart, with big-spend traditional ad campaigns.
But the beverage and CPG giant has, in recent years, been looking more like Benjamin Button: it seems to be getting younger in its approach, with an unusual degree of savvy about social media, the realities of pitching a multi-tasking consumer, quick reflexes with regard to where the media market is moving, and 20/20 vision when it comes to seeing the difference between advertising camouflaged as content and real content consumers want to actually be part of.
In the past year alone the company has launched sweeping programs like Pepsi Refresh. On its surface the program was a cause-marketing juggernaut driven by social media and crowd sourcing with big-media support. But for Pepsi, it was a learning opportunity as well, and demonstrates how supporting content in digital and traditional media can be used to add value rather than merely bludgeon consumers with a fire poker of ad messages.
Seth Kaufman, PepsiCo's director of digital media strategy and investment, was central to the effort. He says the program is emblematic of how marketers can look at consumers not as an audience to be showered with pearls of advertising wisdom, but as promulgators of media themselves with their own positive (or destructive) voices.
"You have to understand how consumers engage with content and to add value rather than detracting by distracting people with advertising," says Kaufman. "We are always trying to add value but what's changed demonstrably is that consumers have become savvy with marketing. Add the multitasking dynamic and the old measurement of media based on 'opportunity to see' doesn't matter any more."
Kaufman says The Refresh program took advantage of that, recognizing the role a brand should play: adding value in an authentic way. "I will say it is how we approach all of our programs now. It's how you are contextually relevant. You want the consumer to walk away from it saying that if Pepsi or Tropicana, or Sobe were not part of this it wouldn't have been as good."
Ironically, given Kaufman's focus on digital, some of the more telling elements of the campaign were executed as traditional-media partnerships. "It was how we took advantage of the entire landscape," says Kaufman. "We really didn't think about it in the confines of solely an online experience but rather as a complete consumer-engagement strategy."