In this blog and my book I’ve written often about my goal to drive a fundamental shift in the way that the marketing function is performed—rather than just some small experiments as part of a traditional, interruptive campaign, true change will only occur when major companies change their organizational alignment toward Marketing with Meaning. Well, dear readers, when I look at the pattern of work that is coming from the Pepsi-Cola brands I begin to gain confidence that the shift is indeed happening.
There certainly have been other companies that are farther down the road of turning Marketing with Meaning into their way of doing business. In my book I talk about Pepsi’s Frito-Lay subsidiary, which has shifted remarkably along these lines with brands such as SunChips and Doritos. There’s also some major change going on at Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble. Until recently Pepsi has been known more for continuing the pattern of big, traditional advertising campaigns. Its “Got G” campaign for Gatorade last year did not reverse a sales decline, and a rebranding effort on Tropicana bombed.
But if you were writing a history of Meaningful Marketing today you would have to call out Sunday, February 7, 2010. It was Super Bowl Sunday, if you remember, and it will be noted in the Museum of Advertising as the day that Pepsi decided not to advertise for the first time in 23 years. Instead, the brand quietly launched The Pepsi Refresh Project weeks earlier, an effort to provide funding to individuals and groups with important causes. Some say that Pepsi won by not wasting dollars on the big game, but I believe we all won because the company showed us how even a huge brand built on traditional, interruptive advertising could shift to Marketing with Meaning with a big idea.
But Pepsi Refresh has been the first of other major steps down this path of a new way of marketing. Another great example is the latest innovations on Gatorade. After years of simply reminding us that Gatorade exists with the assistance of a phalanx of highly paid celebrity endorsers, the brand has gone back to its roots in innovation. It recently launched a line called G Series with different SKUs for Before, During, and After a workout. Here the brand is giving its buyers something that is specifically formulated for each step, and instead of pricey pitchmen, the marketing is direct, informative, and—because the product is unique—interesting. This is the innovative brand that I’ve missed for years, and I look forward to trying this new regimen in my next long run. It is a reminder that Marketing with Meaning starts with a meaningfully different and beneficial product.
Another great example of the shift at Pepsi-Cola is the next chapter in DEWmocracy. I first wrote about this user-driven campaign around new Mountain Dew flavors in my book. It was originally launched in 2007, and I included this case study in my chapter about how you can turn a one-time meaningful idea into an ongoing source of engagement and sales. Even way back then, Frank Cooper, Vice President of Marketing for Mountain Dew, alluded to chance for this to be much more than a one-time win. Back then he said:
“If we get a significant reaction, we think there’s an opportunity to expand this game into a broader online property. We’re seeking feedback from the consumer about what parts of the game they enjoy; is the story resonating? And if it is, we do have plans to expand it.”
Over two years later, the latest “game” of DEWmocracy has launched its third iteration with a very impressive and engaging execution. It’s not the immersive game that was more appropriate for the Web in 2008; instead, the brand has evolved to use even more consumer creativity and direct involvement. Trucks sampled several new flavors with more than 200,000 people across the U.S. And 50 “Dew Labs” fanatics were chosen to narrow down to the final three flavor/color/name candidates. The brand then offered designers and art schools the chance to create the next can. And now Mountain Dew is tapping small agencies, digital content creators, and other small producers to create TV ads for each flavor. Even media companies such as CollegeHumor are campaigning for their ideas to win.
It’s no wonder that Frank Cooper was recently promoted to the role of Chief Consumer Engagement Officer and last week was listed as #6 on the Advertising Age Entertainment A-List. Advertising Age praised the fact that Mountain Dew retained 80% of the citrus soda market from 2006 to 2008, despite seeing traditional media spending cut in half.
Three big beverage brands, all moving toward Marketing with Meaning, and all doing it in ways that are differentiated based on their brand equity and target consumer. I call it a trend. And I’m excited to announce that we will include executives from Pepsi in our “Burning Question” seminar at the Cannes Advertising Festival this June. We’ll get the chance to learn more about how this company is shifting its marketing approach toward purpose and meaning, and gain insights on how even a giant, traditional advertiser can learn new tricks.
We have a lot more news coming about our Cannes event in the weeks ahead!