Like last year’s competition, in which consumers helped Pepsi develop a TV commercial starring Asian superstar Jay Chou, this year’s contest challenged Pepsi consumers online in one of the world’s biggest internet markets. China has more than 140 million web surfers and is expected to reach 200 to 250 million within five years.
In its latest online competition, Pepsi invited consumers to submit personal photos to a Pepsi web site, Pepsi.163.com, where they could also vote on other people’s pictures. Eighty-four photos in total were selected to run on four regional cans, while 21 of them will also appear on cans that will be distributed nationally within China.
The promotion was timed to coincide with the global rollout of new Pepsi packaging. In China, Pepsi is introducing five cans with different themes--travel, SMS messaging, internet-related emoticons, a graffiti-splashed festival can and one that features faces of consumers, which is tied to the new promotion.
The new packaging is related to Pepsi's global tagline, which was changed from "Dare for more" to simply "More." The advertising campaign to promote the contest and the new can was created by BBDO Worldwide, Shanghai, and features Chinese actor Louis Koo, the current star of Pepsi brand ads. It will run through the end of the year. The interactive agency Agenda and NetEase, one of China's main portals, also assisted with the campaign.
The U.S. food and beverage marketer added one cheeky twist to raise the profile of the new cans in the mainland. It has temporarily changed the color of its cans from Pepsi’s traditional blue color to red, one of the most popular colors in Chinese culture, as well as the traditional color of cans produced by Pepsi’s chief rival, Coca-Cola.
“We’re using packaging as a media, and letting consumers pick cans based on their character,” said Leo Tsoi, Shanghai-based marketing director for Pepsi’s beverage business unit 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,'” in the lead-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing, a period during which nationalism is swelling among Chinese.
Pepsi has proven once again that the web is a powerful tool for reaching its core target market, young, urban Chinese. The winners of the competition, announced last week in Beijing, were chosen from almost 2.5 million submissions uploaded to the Pepsi China web site during a six-week period. Since the program launched in early June, the site has had over 25 million unique visitors and received 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,” said Mr. Tsoi. “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 of the entrants already had blogs and the publicity surrounding the Pepsi competition further drove the popularity of their sites. The blog community site, Quan Zi, gained more than 100,000 readers because of the contest. One winner chosen by Chinese surfers is a Buddhist monk with a blog, which 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," conceded Mr. Tsoi, as was the image of a Chinese soldier, also a blogger.
Pepsi has enlisted partners to help promote its new packaging, including China Merchant Bank, which has issued a series of colorful, Pepsi-themed Visa credit cards issued by the bank. Since they were launched in April 2007, over 700,000 cards have been issued.
Pepsi also teamed up in advertising and events with Kappa, an Italian youth clothing brand, by creating a sports fashion series inspired by Pepsi's new packaging graphics. The clothes were sold in Kappa stores and also distributed as prizes. The soft drink marketer also partnered with Edison Chen, a Chinese-Canadian actor who has gained fame among China’s hip set as founder of a multimedia company, Clot Media Division.