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Super Bowl

Pepsi Alters Super Bowl Strategy, Takes Masterbrand Approach

Marketer Will Only Air One In-Game Spot

By Published on . 3

Pepsi has downsized its Super Bowl commercial buy this year, securing only a single 30-second ad for its flagship cola. That is a significant change from recent years, when line extensions such as Pepsi Next and PepsiMax shared the spotlight in separate commercials.

Credit: NFL

But the cola brand is hoping to get a bigger bang for its slimmer ad load by pouring all of its resources behind its sponsorship of the halftime show, which this year stars Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The shift in strategy accompanies a new "masterbrand" marketing approach that will translate into fewer stand-alone ads for sub-brands like Diet Pepsi.

That means advertising will speak "from the brand point of view rather than the product point of view," said Seth Kaufman, VP-marketing of colas for Pepsi North America Beverages. For the Super Bowl, "we are fundamentally playing a different game," he said. The marketing is "no longer about 30 seconds" but "about a month long, really, really meaningful program."

The effort, which has included digital videos and halftime-themed ads aired during the NFL playoffs, will culminate Sunday with a two-and-half minute ad running during Sunday's Grammy Awards. The spot asks the question, "What if the Grammy's had a halftime show?" It includes football personalities such as Mike Ditka, Terry Bradshaw, Deion Sanders and Shannon Sharpe in song-and-dance routines. The agency behind the ad is Scratch, a division of Viacom Media Networks that is taking on a more prominent role on Pepsi's roster.

Ross Martin, an executive VP at Viacom Media Networks who runs Scratch, described the spot as "almost like football meets Glee." Here is a teaser ad the brand has posted to YouTube:

Meanwhile, the brand's sole in-game Super Bowl ad will introduce the halftime show, weaving in scenes from the New York City-area, Mr. Kaufman said. The ad is by Mekanism, which handled last year's halftime intro spot for the brand. Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, which handled the 2013 Super Bowl spot for Pepsi Next, remains on the brand's roster, Mr. Kaufman said.

Pepsi began teasing its halftime show on New Year's Eve with digital out-of-home ads in New York that asked consumers to "Get Hyped for Halftime." During the NFL playoffs, Pepsi ran an ad reimagining what the first football halftime was like. The spot is by Motive, Denver, which helped co-create the overall halftime campaign.

Meanwhile, the brand has run several halftime-themed events and digital videos in advance of the game, which will be broadcast by Fox on Feb. 2. For instance, Pepsi arranged for country music star Lee Brice to perform in Milligan, Neb., described as a town "halfway between California and New York."

Another video, called "Twice in a Lifetime," features Broadway legend Carol Channing giving a "halftime performance" for some unsuspecting senior citizens during their bingo game.

Ms. Channing was the first solo artist to perform during a Super Bowl halftime show when she performed at the 1970 game, according to Pepsi.

Mr. Kaufman said Pepsi still believes in the power of in-game Super Bowl ads and the eyeballs and engagement they draw. But the brand wanted to spread its messaging across "these other audiences," he said. "The communication landscape has changed fundamentally and how we engage with our consumers needs to be incredibly nuanced. It can't just have big spikes."

The Grammy ad came about through the brand's corporate partnership with the awards show, which is airing on CBS. The program airs before the Super Bowl this year -- rather than the Sunday after the game -- in order to clear the stage for the Winter Olympics, which begin on Feb. 6.

Pepsi is the only Grammy partner planning a Super Bowl tie-in during the award show, said Evan Greene, chief marketing officer for The Recording Academy/The Grammy Awards. "We have no interest in ambushing the Super Bowl," he said. "It really was about being part of an interesting, innovative and exciting idea that Pepsi was really committed to."

"Our brand's positioning is 'Live for Now,'" Mr. Kaufman said. "There is really no better articulation of that than a halftime celebration. It's in the moment. It's big. It's exciting."

Asked for examples of the masterbrand strategy, Mr. Kaufman cited an ad that aired in the fourth quarter of 2013. The NFL-themed spot included can shots of both regular Pepsi and Diet Pepsi.

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Pepsi will not completely abandon stand-alone advertising for line extensions, Mr. Kaufman said, adding that they will likely be executed through digital. "We absolutely are going to still be microtargeting where we need to with our sub-brands," he said. But TV is better for "a wider approach" that can "provide a tailwind for the entire portfolio."

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