Pepsi's third challenge contest keeps consumers in charge

Multiple web sites and advanced mobile platform expand new media use

By Published on .

SHANGHAI--PepsiCo has once again handed control of its marketing in China to consumers in the latest version of its Pepsi Creative Challenge contest. But this year, the marketer has dramatically stepped up use of new media, particularly mobile phones, in the mainland.

China is now the world’s largest mobile phone and internet market, and for youth marketers like Pepsi, they have become one of the most potent methods of marketing communication.

Pepsi has invited consumers to upload their photos and a slogan or cheer on six popular Chinese web sites that have partnered with Pepsi--a portal, Netease (163.com); Xiaonei.com, a Beijing-based social network for college students; Alibaba’s consumer retail site Taobao.com; the blog portal 51.com; the social networking site Poco.cn; and iPartment (www.ipart.cn), a site that lets young Chinese share a virtual apartment.

These sites are popular with Pepsi’s target market of 12-to-24-year-old Chinese in first and second tier cities. The campaign is being supported with TV advertising, point-of-sale, internet and mobile marketing, and promotions.

Consumers can also submit entries via mobile phones, or in person from special booths set up at events taking place around China, such as sponsored soccer games, featuring local athletes and pop stars. Consumers can submit their own entry and vote for others for a twelve-week period ending June 27.

More than photos on cans

Consumers will choose 70 finalists--ten from each site and a handful from the other sources. About three winners will become Pepsi Creative Challenge “stars.” Their photos will appear on the U.S. food and beverage marketer’s packaging during the Olympics, including on Pepsi drink cans, and Pepsi will create advertising around the winning slogans.

This year’s program “is more than just photos on cans. The call to action is also about encouraging people to submit a slogan or a chant that shows they’re supporting China,” said Harry Hui, Shanghai-based chief marketing officer of PepsiCo's beverage business unit in Greater China. “To that end, some of the quotes are quite interesting and revealing, and show a very strong sense of nationalism.”

Mr. Hui conceded that the notion of inviting Chinese to submit online cheers is not a new idea this spring. Other marketers such as Tsingtao, McDonald’s and China Mobile have created Olympic promotions with similar themes.

Since Beijing is hosting the 2008 Olympic Games this summer, “you can’t get away from the ‘love China’ theme right now. It’s such a historic year. It’s not just about prizes, consumers like having a platform to communicate their love for China,” said Mr. Hui, a music and entertainment expert who joined Pepsi last year from Universal Music.

“But Pepsi has the advantage that this theme is in its third year and the theory is very much about consumers being in control. We have the benefit of more familiarity and credibility among our consumers.”

Pepsi worked with a variety of marketing partners in Shanghai for the latest challenge campaign, including one of its creative agencies, BBDO Worldwide; Bravo Asia, a consultancy founded by a former DDB Worldwide exec, Aaron Lau; two mobile marketing specialists, Madhouse and MyClick; and Agenda, a digital agency recently acquired by WPP Group.

Consumer empowerment

PepsiCo invented the Creative Challenge in 2006. That year, consumers were invited to submit the storyline for a TV spot starring Asian pop star Jay Chou on a micro site created with Netease, one of China's leading portals. Pepsi received almost 27,000 scripts over a six-week period.

After Pepsi narrowed the list to 15 finalists, millions of consumers voted for the winning script. A teacher won the $12,500 grand prize--more than a teacher in China earns in a year--and got to participate in production meetings to cast the spot and select props and shoot locations. Pepsi also held an online audition for consumers to act in the commercial.

Last year, Pepsi expanded from consumer engagement to consumer empowerment with a bigger contest that invited users to submit photos to a web site. Through online voting, consumers helped choose dozens of winning photos that were featured on a new style of Pepsi cans, as part of a global rollout of new packaging. Eighty-four photos were selected to run on four regional cans, and 21 also appeared on cans distributed nationally. The site attracted over 25 million unique visitors and nearly 144 million votes.

The Creative Challenge series is “an enormous volume driver for us. We feel consumers in control as a platform has been very important,” said Mr. Hui. Pepsi has not released data from the first few weeks of the promotion but the early results, he added, suggest this year’s contest “will be unbelievable. So far, initial interest is blowing last year’s numbers away.”

Turning phones into passports

For the first time, the contest incorporates technology created by MyClick, which has developed an application for image recognition mobile marketing. MyClick ads are similar to the quick response, or QR, codes popular with marketers in developed markets like Japan.

Instead of using a phone to snap a picture of a bar code placed on a billboard or print ad, for example, consumers can snap logos, Chinese characters and other designated images. The images can be placed on all types of media, even television. After an image has been captured by a phone camera, it takes the user to a branded site on the phone.

For the Pepsi Creative Challenge, consumers are encouraged to download the MyClick application on a link provided at the six web sites. That allows them to easily vote for entries, share photos, messages, blogs about what makes their entry special, and see status updates on their own submissions.

“Users will be getting a passport to the information they want and it will be on their terms, their schedule and based entirely on their creative input,” said Justin Tsang, MyClick’s chief technical officer.

Pepsi tested MyClick’s technology with smaller events such as basketball games late last year, using the Pepsi logo as the designated image. After snapping the logo on posters hanging around the stadium, fans could access special information on their phone such as information about the players and teams, game statistics and news.
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