Pepsi Resurrects Pepsi Challenge for the Social Media Age. Is It Pepsi Refresh Redux?

Social-Good Effort is Reminiscent of Polarizing Pepsi Refresh Project

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Pepsi is bringing back the Pepsi Challenge, launching what it's calling its biggest "socially-led, content-driven initiative ever."

The company is enlisting celebrity "ambassadors" like Usher, Usain Bolt and Serena Williams for a year-long promotion designed to spread widely on social media. Each month, Pepsi will announce new challenges on social and digital channels via the ambassadors, urging consumers to take on the global and local challenges that combine pop culture with social good.

It's vaguely reminiscent of the Pepsi Refresh Project, an initiative launched in 2010 that encouraged consumers to apply for grants to fund community-building projects each month. Both programs lean heavily on social media, use celebrity ambassadors to drive awareness, urge consumer action and have a broader goal of doing good.

Refresh was a pivotal test case for other brands trying to navigate an ad-cluttered, cynic-rich marketing landscape. Originally slated to be a year-long marketing effort, the program garnered early attention when Pepsi sat out the Super Bowl for the first time in 23 years. Ultimately the program lasted two years. While many lauded it as a bold, social-media savvy experiment, it also suffered its fair share of criticism.

A key concern was that Refresh Project didn't connect closely enough with sales. Based on what the company has revealed about Pepsi Challenge, it's likely it will face the same criticism. Pepsi, for its part, maintained Refresh Project was a long-term equity play, and it seems to be taking a similar approach with its new effort.

"Pepsi Challenge is an iconic piece of our brand equity and in many ways established our can-do attitude and spirit," said Kristin Patrick, senior VP and chief marketing officer of PepsiCo Global Beverage Brands, in a statement. "When we talked to consumers around the globe about what challenge meant to them today, they resoundingly said that it entailed challenging convention and daring to do something differently. We used that sentiment as our inspiration to expand beyond just taste and re-imagine the Pepsi Challenge for new generations, creating this cross-pollination of experiences, events, community and social advocacy, designed to ignite a mindset that challenges the status quo, our fans and ourselves."

The Pepsi Challenge dates back to the 1970s when the marketer did blind taste tests to differentiate it from Coke.

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Omnicom's 180LA was the lead global agency on the effort, developing and producing the creative for out of home and television, while PepsiCo's in-house Design & Innovation Center developed the special packaging and point of sale, said a spokeswoman.

Exact details of the challenges aren't yet available, but the company told The New York Times that later this month, one challenge will involve fashion designer Nicola Formichetti. He will present a challenge designed to bring light solutions to poor communities in various parts of the world. Every time someone uses the #PepsiChallenge hashtag, Pepsi said it will donate $1 to Liter of Light, which has provided sustainable lighting to more than 18 countries, including Pakistan and the Philippines.

A challenge involving sports will include "a collection of unconventional global sporting events and experiences anchored by some of the world's most beloved sports heroes," according to the statement.

The global challenges will be accompanied by more regional and local challenges relevant to specific markets, similar to Refresh Project which had a strong local component. The Pepsi Challenge effort will also include global TV spots, digital content, consumer engagement programs, point of sale, special packaging and out-of-home and a robust digital and social program.

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