Like the first Pepsi Creative Challenge last year, in which consumers entered an online contest to help Pepsi develop a TV commercial starring Asian superstar Jay Chou, this year's competition challenged Pepsi consumers to compete online. Pepsi invited consumers to submit personal photos to Pepsi.163.com. They could also vote there on other people's pictures. A total of 84 photos were selected to run on four regional cans; 21 of them also will appear on soft-drink cans distributed nationally.
The promotion was timed to coincide with the global rollout of new Pepsi packaging. In China, Pepsi is introducing five types of cans with different themes -- travel, SMS messaging, internet-related emoticons, a graffiti-splashed festival and faces of consumers.
'More' is less
The packaging is related to Pepsi's global tagline, changed from "Dare for more" to simply "More." BBDO Worldwide, Shanghai, created the campaign to promote the contest; it features Chinese actor Louis Koo, the current star of Pepsi ads. Interactive agency Agenda and NetEase -- one of China's main portals, also assisted with the campaign.
In one cheeky twist to draw attention to the cans, Pepsi temporarily changed their color from Pepsi blue to red, one of the most popular colors in Chinese culture, and a hallmark of archrival Coca-Cola's packaging.
"We're using packaging as a media and letting consumers pick cans based on their character," said Leo Tsoi, marketing director for Pepsi's beverage business unity in China. "Blue has been our color, but we want to make Pepsi different, and consumers in China think the red cans are cool. It's very different and shows the passion of Pepsi to support China and 'Team China.'"
Pepsi has proved once again the power of the internet to reach its core target market of young, urban Chinese. The winners of the competition, announced earlier this month in Beijing, were chosen from almost 2.5 million submissions uploaded to the Pepsi China website in six weeks. Since the program launched in early June, 25 million unique visitors have cast nearly 144 million votes.
"These numbers are only the tip of an iceberg, because the most exciting stories are the community that we are reaching and also the profile of the candidates," Mr. Tsoi said. "The participants are really from all walks of life including celebrities, a two-time 'World of Warcraft' game champion, babies and net stars."
The competition created an online community as the leading contenders became net celebrities within China. Most entrants already had blogs, and the publicity surrounding the Pepsi competition fueled the popularity of their sites. The blog community site, Quan Zi, gained more than 100,000 readers because of the contest. One winner picked by Chinese web surfers is a Buddhist monk with a blog, a choice Pepsi execs cheerfully acknowledged was a dare by their consumers.
"It could have been a bit difficult politically to put a monk on a Pepsi can in China," Mr. Tsoi conceded. Both the blogging monk and a blogging Chinese soldier, another touchy image, will appear on cans.
Marketing partners are promoting the packaging. China Merchant Bank starting issuing Pepsi-themed Visa credit cards in April 2007; more than 700,000 are in circulation. Pepsi also teamed with Kappa, an Italian youth-clothing brand, to create sports fashions inspired by Pepsi's new packaging graphics. The clothes were sold in Kappa stores and also distributed as prizes.