Pepsi Swaps Super Bowl Ads for Cause-Marketing Project

PepsiFor the first time in 23 years, Pepsi won’t be advertising any of its beverage brands in the 2010 Super Bowl, according to The Wall Street Journal reporter Suzanne Vranica. Pepsi instead will shift advertising dollars to support a cause-marketing campaign called the “Pepsi Refresh Project,” which “will award grant money for community projects proposed and selected by consumers.”

The Associated Press reports, via, that the program’s interactive website will launch on January 13th, allowing consumers to submit worthwhile community projects and vote for the ones they want Pepsi to award grant money. According to Pepsi spokesperson Nicole Bradley, the company is sifting to a strategy and “marketing platform that will be less about a singular event and more about a movement.”

With $20 million set aside for “Pepsi Refresh Project” grants and a 60 percent increase in online ad spending to support the campaign, as The AP reports, Pepsi seems to be putting its money where its mouth is. Super Bowl commercials offer unparalleled reach for advertisers: The 2009 matchup between the Steelers and the Cardinals had an audience of 95.4 million people (The AP). However, if your goal is to cultivate a “movement” for your brand around a cause, you can’t just tell people about it with ads — you have to generate buzz online and actually engage with consumers.

It will be interesting to see how successful Pepsi’s initiative turns out. We’ll know a lot more when the website goes live next month. I’m sure many would consider Pepsi’s move a risk — abandoning what is probably the most prestigious advertising forum in the world — but I commend Pepsi for trying something innovative, and putting a sizable budget behind a socially responsible, interactive and engagement-driven campaign.

SOURCE: “Pepsi Benches Its Drinks,” 12/17/09
SOURCE: “Pepsi turns ad focus online,” 12/17/09
Photo courtesy of Michel Filion, used under its Creative Commons license.

About David Reich

David Reich is co-founder and CEO of SixEstate, blending a background in traditional marketing and public relations with over 5 years of experience managing hundreds of online marketing campaigns for all kinds of organizations -- from small businesses and nonprofits to public companies. David is responsible for keeping SixEstate and its clients at the forefront of the rapidly evolving search and content marketing landscape. Connect with David on Twitter, Google+ or via email.


Leave a Comment


  1. David,

    I agree that this is a really smart move on Pepsi’s part. Use those ad dollars for something that benefits communities, and let the brand ride alongside. I think it will work out fabulously, as it has for others, such as YouTube with their brilliant Carnegie Hall promotion last year.

    A less noble example is the Amazon Kindle ad airing on television. It has an irresistibly cute stop-motion animation and song. The ad was so good I couldn’t believe it was from Amazon; they aren’t known for creative ads. Sure enough, Amazon didn’t make the ad; it was the winner of a user contest.

    What’s really stunning is that Amazon didn’t clutter up the simple ad with a lot of text-over or voice-overs hawking the Kindle. They didn’t ruin the ad. They let it breathe.

    When you compare it with the dreadful ads for the Sony Reader, you realize that maybe there’s something to this user-generated content thing.

  2. David Reich says:


    People get really into contests, and they’re a great way for businesses to engage with consumers. But when you take a contest online and connect it to a good cause, results skyrocket. Not just in sales, but in the hard-to-measure areas like media attention and favorable buzz, online and off. Pepsi’s initiative doesn’t even go live until January, yet it’s already talked about on every major news network, countless blogs both small and large, as well as Twitter and Facebook. Take away the social good aspect and that simply wouldn’t be the case.

  3. I just received the first email update from Pepsi regarding this initiative:

    We’re giving out Pepsi Refresh Grants for great ideas from people like you. Do you have an idea that needs support? Learn how Pepsi can help. Hurry up though – idea submissions will be accepted from January 13th to 24th – and you don’t want to be late. If you need some inspiration and great tips, check out our submission tool kit.

    Pepsi claims that this is a one-time email. I wonder why they would limit themselves, though. Shouldn’t they communicate and engage with their list consistently?