NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- PepsiCo is likely to give flagship Pepsi a diminished presence in the upcoming Super Bowl on CBS because the company fears the venue isn't a good fit with its brand message.
Instead, the beverage and snack giant might use its air time in next year's broadcast of Super Bowl XLIV, slated to air Feb. 7 from Miami, to promote some of its other brands, like Gatorade and Doritos.
At issue, said one of several people who told Ad Age about PepsiCo's discussions around its Super Bowl buy, is that much of the marketing for brand Pepsi is expected to focus on a "Pepsi Refresh Project." Already, Pepsi has said it plans to pledge at least $20 million for projects consumers create to "refresh" their communities. According to this person, the company is concerned that putting a lot of ad dollars behind the brand in the Super Bowl -- where CBS has been seeking between $2.5 million and $3 million for a 30-second spot -- would not be in keeping with a marketing message that portrays Pepsi as socially responsible.
Instead, Gatorade brand may get more time during the big game. Following a year marked by declining sales and market share, even in the face of the massive "What is G?" marketing effort, the sports-drink is poised for another overhaul in 2010. Executives have said that changes will be made to Gatorade's marketing, advertising and product offerings, even as they have insisted that this year's restaging efforts are on target.
"In 2010, we're planning to introduce significant innovation that will evolve Gatorade and, in some ways, the category," a spokesman said, adding the company believes "these efforts will help us increase both penetration and frequency with our core users by meeting more needs of the athlete."
More spots for Gatorade?
Given that, it would make sense for Gatorade to take a bigger stake in the game, the largest televised athletic contest in the U.S. In 2009, Gatorade had planned to run multiple spots, but ended up with only one 30-second commercial in the lineup. The spokesman said the company felt it was too early to share its plans for the Super Bowl in 2010.
Frito-Lay, the company's snack-food unit, has already announced another go-round of its "Crash the Super Bowl" contest, in which amateur ad makers try to devise Doritos ads that place well in USA Today's annual Ad Meter ranking of Super Bowl commercials. One media buyer said that PepsiCo's Super Bowl ad commitment was, as recently as three weeks ago, consistent with previous levels of spending.
PepsiCo has cast a Super Bowl spotlight on products other than its flagship in previous years. In 2003, for instance, it hawked Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Twist and Sierra Mist, but not its mainstay beverage. Likewise, diet soda got more emphasis in 2005, when Pepsi used ads featuring Cindy Crawford and P. Diddy to draw attention to Diet Pepsi, and allocated the rest of its time to an iTunes giveaway and products from Frito-Lay.
A spokeswoman for Pepsi-Cola North America said the company routinely declines to comment on rumor and speculation. A spokeswoman for Omnicom Group's OMD, Pepsi's ad buying agency, referred an inquiry to Pepsi. CBS has sold more than 90% of its ad inventory for the event, and has approximately five ad spots left, according to people familiar with the situation.
The chatter surrounding Pepsi's maneuvering only serves to illustrate the challenge of using the Super Bowl as a marketing vehicle, even for a veteran member of the game's ad roster. Marketing experts, of course, routinely caution against putting an ad in the game if there's not some splash to make in terms of creative execution or product news. But the nation's recent economic turmoil has also made advertisers wary of seeming cavalier about spending a hefty chunk of change on buzzy commercials when the dollars might help shore up operations or keep people employed.
General Motors and FedEx Corp., longtime Super Bowl advertisers, opted out of the contest in 2009, citing economic issues, and do not seem to be interested in being in 2010's game. In Pepsi's case, the concern is that glitzy Pepsi spots would not bolster the image of the brand as one that encourages healing, growth and improvement.
PepsiCo has a solid history of Super Bowl advertising. In 2009, in fact, it was the biggest advertiser in the game, using five minutes and 30 seconds' worth of ad time, according to TNS Media Intelligence, to promote everything from its male-targeted Pepsi Max to Doritos to Gatorade to its flagship Pepsi.
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Contributing: Natalie Zmuda