To that end, the brand is introducing a new package, the Skinny
Can, and building a major marketing program around it, slated to
run throughout 2011. The can will become part of Diet Pepsi's
permanent lineup. (Pepsi's Skinny Can is a full 12 oz. serving.
Competitor Coca-Cola has experimented with slimmer and shorter cans
that are not a full 12 oz. in some markets.)
"The challenge is making sure that packaging is a legitimate way
to do marketing," Ms. Irazabal said. "Sometimes people think
innovation is about changing what's inside. But sometimes I think
it's about celebrating what's inside in a different way."
Ads promote the can but also convey the idea of "getting the
skinny" or the inside scoop on the latest in culture, fashion,
style and design. The can will be available nationwide in March and
will be touted with an array of media, including print,
out-of-home, TV and digital buys. Sofia Vergara of "Modern Family"
is featured in early print and out-of-home executions and is being
considered, along with several other personalities, for TV ads, Ms.
Irazabal said. She declined to comment on marketing spend for the
effort, though she called it "substantial." TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles, is working
on the campaign.
A slew of partnerships and retail promotions are also a part of
the effort. A promotion that gives consumers $5 off a purchase at
Target when they buy a four-pack of Skinny Cans and a People
magazine is launching late this month. And Diet Pepsi was an
official sponsor of New York Fashion Week, where the can was
presented as a fashion item and handed out to the trendsetting crew
that frequents runway shows.
To help conceive the effort, it formed a "Pop Culture Council,"
including personalities like Simon Doonan, creative ambassador for
Barney's, and convened at Eventi Hotel in Manhattan in December.
Because of contractual obligations, Diet Pepsi declined to name all
those in attendance, but said the group included well-known
designers and stylists. Ms. Irazabal said that the group was
presented with various ideas and advertising concepts and told to
"pull them apart and rebuild them."
"They were saying you need to stop thinking as a staple product
and think as we think in the fashion and design industries," Ms.
Irazabal said. "That's not our expertise, so we need to be smart
enough and humble enough to call those that know better than
The effort is not without controversy. The National Eating
Disorders Association put out a press release saying it "takes
offense" to the idea. "Pepsi should be ashamed for declaring that
skinny is to be celebrated," said Lynn Grefe, president-CEO of
NEDA. Various blogs and news outlets have also decried the Skinny
Can and a company press release that called the can "slim" and
Ms. Irazabal says she anticipated some would respond negatively
to the Skinny Can, adding that it's a topic her team addressed with
the Pop Culture Council. The fashion industry, after all, is no
stranger to controversies related to body shape. Because of those
discussions, Ms. Irazabal says she's felt confident in responding
to criticisms. "It's the new shape of a product. We're not talking
about the form or shape of a woman," she said. "And it's also the
marketing platform, getting the skinny, the inside scoop, on
fashion, style and design."
Eric Gustavsen, founding partner at creative firm Graj &
Gustavsen who has no connection to the project, said he expects
controversy will blow over quickly. "It's more of a fun idea than
it is derogatory to a group," he said, adding he expects consumers
will gravitate toward the new can because it's novel. "This
particular idea is simple enough and understandable enough that it
may very well have mass appeal. It's cool and different. That
doesn't mean it's going to redefine what a soda can shape is, but
there's nothing wrong with breaking away and experimenting."