February 10, 2010

Pepsi Throws the SuperBowl a Curve Ball

This past Superbowl weekend brought a big shift, but what I’m talking about didn’t happen on the playing field with the Saints and Colts. For the first time in 23 years the makers of Pepsi did not have at least one ad. Not one! No Britney Spears doing a generational montage, no Michael J. Fox desperate to get a Pepsi for an attractive neighbor and certainly no Cindy Crawford drinking a Pepsi in the hot desert in the presence of some adolescent boys.

Instead, Lauren Hobart, CMO of PepsiCo is betting that social media, its viral abilities and a $20M humanitarian program called Pepsi Refresh will have more pull with their consumers.

For me, this type of marketing strategy begs the question: has social media finally surpassed the advertising monolith medium of television, even on its biggest stage?

Let’s stop and think about this for a minute. We are in a technological age where people routinely record shows on their DVRs giving millions of viewers the ability to skip TV commercials altogether; however the Superbowl is one time you know that won’t happen. Here’s what else we know about the Superbowl advertising:

  • A standard 30-second ad at this year’s Superbowl went for $2.5-2.8M, down approximately 10% from the year before (interesting how in one of our country’s worst economic downturn, people were willing to pay more)
  • The Superbowl is typically the most watched, single TV event of the year and has been for quite some time – now with over a 100 million viewers
  • According to a Neilson survey, 51% of people enjoy the commercials more than the game itself!
  • Superbowl advertising anchors, and fellow beverage makers, Coke and Anheuser-Busch each had multiple ads each year

So, what can social media do that a Superbowl ad can’t? As great as those Superbowl ads are they are one-way, they are monologues; there’s a glass ceiling on the bond you make with your customers. Social media on the other hand, is all about interactions and dialogues, engaging the customer and bringing them closer to your brand. Also, think about who social media appeals to – young adults and middle aged women (both of whom are major purchasers of soda in a household). And let’s not discount the viral component that social media possesses, where for a relatively small investment (as compared to a Superbowl ad) you can get huge ROIs.

While I can understand PepsiCo’s interest in the area of social media for this humanitarian campaign, I can’t see why they feel the need for it to be one or the other. In my mind, they fumbled the ball. They could have had a very dignified ad raising awareness for the cause rather then letting bloggers like me do all the work. 😉