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Pepsi Challenge Reinvents Itself For the 21st Century


The Pepsi Challenge is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year as it plans to relaunch it for the Facebook generation.

The New York Times reports that PepsiCo launched the first of a series of global “challenges” heavily relying on social media and mobile phones. Using celebrity spokesmen such as Usher, Serena Williams, and Usain Bolt, PepsiCo hopes to invigorate consumers around the world with challenges meant to “blend social responsibility with popular culture.”

“We’ve taken the DNA of the Pepsi challenge, then reinterpreted it for a new generation,” said Brad Jakeman, the president of PepsiCo’s Global Beverages Group. “Now more than ever, we are in a world where the consumer expects to hear from the brands they love in whole different ways.”

Pepsi’s “ambassadors” will use social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to challenge consumers to “do something different.” Fashion designer Nicola Formichetti, for example, will introduce the first challenge in Hong Kong; it involves collecting and using plastic Pepsi bottles, along with water and bleach, to refract sunlight in order to bring attention to the lack of light in poverty-stricken communities around the world.

The new challenge, according to Ad Age, is similar to its 2010 Pepsi Refresh Project, which encouraged consumers to apply for grants for community-focused building projects every month. Although the project had its detractors, it was the first time Pepsi had significantly used social media an an outreach.

Outside of Formichetti’s challange, Pepsi has not revealed significant details about its campaign.

PepsiCo’s revamp of its classic challenge from 1975, in which consumers “taste tested” samples of Pepsi and Coca Cola in order to determine which they preferred, reflects a wider trend in the business community to use social media. Approximately 91% of Americans use social media on a regular basis. Because social media users are accustomed to real-time information and less accustomed to ingesting traditional media ads such as TV commercials, companies have had to make tremendous changes to their marketing strategy.

“All you had to do was make a television commercial,” Jakeman said, commenting on the differences between today’s advertising and the ads from 1975. “It is not about one big epic television commercial anymore. It is about this continuing dialogue.”

One advantage social media presents to marketing strategies is its global reach. PepsiCo wants to include local “perspectives” (such as cultural and behavior differences) in its overall campaign, which includes creating campaigns specific to a region.

“The context in which consumers live really mandated for us as a brand to be as locally relevant as possible,” said Carla Hassan, PepsiCo’s Chief Marketing Officer for the Middle East and Africa region. “There are cultural differences and also behavioral differences. We want to make sure we’re being respectful to the cultural norms.”

One of PepsiCo’s efforts in this region, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Lebanon, is to encourage consumers to record the sounds around them (for example, the shouts of local bazaars or local wildlife) and upload them to PepsiCo’s website or use an app exclusive to that region. Once the sounds are compiled, a yet-to-be-announced celebrity producer will mix them into a track.

“At the end of the day, people connect with things that are really personal to them,” Hassan said.

In addition to the campaign’s emphasis on communal participation, it will also rely on the increasingly standard Twitter hashtag, #PepsiChallenge. For every time that hashtag is used on a social media profile, PepsiCo plans to donate one dollar to the Liter of Light organization, a charity organization that provides lighting to poor countries around the world including Kenya and Colombia.

PepsiCo hopes that the new Pepsi Challenge, in addition to engaging communities around the world with social awareness and good works, will ultimately help its market share. According to ABC News, Coca-Cola leads the market with 17.4% of total soft drink consumption. Diet Coke comes in second with 9% and Pepsi ranks third with 8.9%.