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Pepsi Expands Refresh Project

Social-Media Experiment Becomes Full-Blown Global Marketing Strategy

By Published on . 7

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Less than a year ago, Pepsi caught consumers and the advertising industry off guard with its announcement that it would bypass the Super Bowl in favor of a cause campaign, Pepsi Refresh Project. At the time, the effort was considered a social-media experiment, a test case that could shape the way other major companies approached marketing.

No longer.

Today, Pepsi officially moves past the experiment stage, with the announcement that it will expand the Pepsi Refresh Project to Europe, Latin America and Asia, as well as continue to fund the project in the U.S. and Canada. "When you look at the powerful movement that we are creating, there's no question that we have on our hands something big," said Ami Irazabal, marketing director at Pepsi. "Good ideas need to expand. They cannot be encapsulated, especially when something is working for the brand."

The brand plans to roll out the project worldwide in 2011, though many of the local market details have yet to be decided. For example, it's not been determined how many countries will launch the project or how much funding individual markets will set aside for the program.

In the U.S., $1.3 million per month has been allocated to the Pepsi Refresh Project this year and that figure will be carried into 2011, raising the question of whether Pepsi will pour additional millions into the Super Bowl TV spots it bypassed last year. Ms. Irazabal didn't rule out a return to the Super Bowl in 2011, saying that the big game is a "great platform."

The core of the project will be unchanged in 2011, though there could be changes in execution. In the coming weeks, Pepsi will query Facebook users -- its fans now number more than 1 million, up from 225,000 before the project launched -- for ideas on how to evolve the program. That's one way Ms. Irazabal says the brand will keep fickle consumers interested month after month.

Thus far, Pepsi says consumer interest has only continued to rise, with votes and the numbers of ideas submitted rising month after month. To date, the project has tallied nearly 45 million votes. On average, Ms. Irazabal says the project generates six to 12 new media reports per day, along with "endless" conversations on Twitter and Facebook.

Ms. Irazabal also said that key brand attributes have improved since the Pepsi Refresh Project launched in January. And the effort could be giving the brand an edge over its nemesis, Coke, though the brand declined to quantify the project's effect on sales. "Sales are driven by many variables, and I can tell you that when you are aware of the Pepsi Refresh Project, it's one of the things you factor in to choose the right cola," she said.

Any impact has yet to make a dent in Coke's market share, however. According to Beverage Digest, Pepsi lost 0.4 volume share in the first half of 2010, compared to Coke's 0.1 volume share loss. The data covers supermarkets, c-stores, drug stores and non-Walmart mass merchandisers.

As in the U.S., brand teams' budgets, not Pepsi Foundation monies, will fund both the grants and the communications efforts around the project. Ms. Irazabal said she doesn't have specifics on how much money will be allocated to grants internationally, though she expects it will be an "important" number.

"Pepsi Refresh Project is going to be an integral part of the brand going forward," Ms. Irazabal said. "Each market is going to execute it differently, but it is a global branding platform."

In the U.S., TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles is Pepsi's creative and advertising agency. Weber Shandwick and Edelman are handling social media around Refresh Project and OMD is handling media. Huge designed the Refresh Project site, www.refresheverything.com, Outside of the U.S., BBDO handles creative for brand Pepsi.

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