The cola giant is in the midst of a "Joy of Cola" tour, the company's largest-ever mall promotion and one of its biggest cross-promotional programs of the year, involving shopping centers owned by Simon Property Group.
Simon and other mall operators are finally hitting the jackpot with long-term sponsorships, proving the value of place-based marketing at their facilities.
After several years of struggling to convince marketers that malls actually are a new marketing medium, shopping centers are reaping rewards as major marketers of soft drinks, electronics, home entertainment and cars begin pumping serious dollars into mall partnership programs.
Pepsi's "Joy of Cola" tour activates partnership marketing programs on several levels and demonstrates the soft-drink marketer's new commitment to place-based media.
More than 500,000 consumers are expected to taste Pepsi as the tour rolls through 29 major Simon malls in the U.S. from July 30 through Nov. 22, said Kristina Mangelsdorf, customer marketing manager for Pepsi's access channel marketing.
The tour offers entertainment and prizes for people of all ages, but its main focus is on the sought-after youth market of 13-to-15-year-olds who spend hours of prime leisure time in malls each month, Ms. Mangelsdorf said.
"Teen-agers spend less money in malls than average visitors, but they spend a lot of time there, which makes it one of the best places for us to reach them . . . these are our future customers, and we're trying to give them positive experiences," she said.
For Simon, the goal of long-term sponsorships is boosting foot traffic in its malls and creating "added-value experiences consumers cannot receive anywhere else," said Ken Volk, divisional VP-marketing for Simon Brand Ventures, the mall developer's marketing arm.
In addition to Pepsi, Simon has secured long-term sponsorships with AT&T Corp., Time Inc. and Visa USA. Simon's lure to these marketers: It claims an audience of 100 million who regularly visit Simon malls each year. The company didn't disclose sponsorship fees.
Pepsi created a "Joy of Tasting" drink zone for its tour, where thousands of people per day can try Pepsi in a specially blended frozen version or spiked with one of several flavored syrups, or they can drink straight Pepsi, Wild Cherry Pepsi or the latest variation introduced last year, low-calorie Pepsi One.
In addition, Pepsi is inviting consumers to vote on their favorite personalities or other topics in 10 pop culture categories such as fashion, music and movies; those who do are automatically entered in a nationwide sweepstakes to win a prize in each category, including tickets to the 2000 World Series from Foot Locker, a Pepsi-theme blue Dodge Durango, a $5,000 shopping spree at any Simon mall and a custom Pepsi-branded guitar created by Gibson Guitars.
At each mall, the first 500 shoppers to turn in a ballot receive a complimentary "tasting kit" from Pepsi, including a special straw, Pepsi recipe cards and coupons for a free 2-liter bottle of Pepsi. Consumers also can enter online at www.pepsi.com.
The winners in each category voted on will be published Dec. 31 in USA Today; Simon also is promoting the event in its national magazine S, which debuted in March.
At each tour stop, entertainers will give away prizes and let consumers spin a "Wheel of Joy" to win as many as 500 prizes per day including merchandise from Pepsi's various marketing partners.
Pepsi in 1997 inked a three-year sponsorship deal with Indianapolis-based Simon, which operates 241 properties; the marketer also has an exclusive sponsorship agreement with General Growth Properties, Chicago, another major mall operator.
SMALLER PROMOS LAST YEAR
Last year, Pepsi ran a smaller promotion with both developers, creating Pepsi One lounges in malls where consumers could rest and get free Pepsi, but this year's event surpasses it significantly, Ms. Mangelsdorf said.
Pepsi has been beefing up its marketing partnerships in a variety of categories, aiming to reach people during leisure time at all hours of the day including while shopping at individual retail chains.
Its marketing partners now include Best Buy Co., Hollywood Video, Musicland/Sam Goody, Northwest Airlines, Planet Hollywood, Toys "R" Us and the YMCA. Pepsi currently is testing a marketing partnership with Philips Electronics and Foot Locker, Ms. Mangelsdorf said.
With each relationship, Pepsi strives to find ways to target customers inside retail chains and leisure locations through promotions and tie-ins.
"We're finding that reaching people through place-based media and entertainment gives us a chance to make the product come alive, which is harder to do in TV and print advertising," she said.
OTHER MALL COS. ALSO ACTIVE
General Growth Properties also has been involved in Pepsi promotions and sponsorships through its 125 indoor malls. In addition to Pepsi, GGP has broad sponsorship deals with Visa USA and DaimlerChrysler.
Megamall developer Mills Corp. has had its own raft of sponsors within each of its eight supersize malls, which attract 130 million visitors annually, said Tony Wells, VP-partnership marketing and sales for the Arlington, Va.-based company.
Mills last week opened its latest mall, Concord Mills in Charlotte, N.C., with sponsors including Coca-Cola Co., CT Communications, DaimlerChrysler's Dodge, Discover Card, Eller Media, First Citizens Bank, Harris Teeter supermarkets and