There was a Pepsi commercial shown extensively in the UK during the
80s which seemed to epitomise the brand’s values. It featured an
unfortunate truck driver whose vehicle was dangling, Italian Job-style,
over a precipice.
A pair of concerned young passers-by stop and ask what happened. ’I
flipped out back there and the truck kinda flipped out with me,’ comes
the none-too-illuminating reply. ’What did you have on board?’ they
enquire. ’Cola,’ replies the truck driver. ’Pepsi Cola?’ they ask. ’No,’
he replies, and as the truck finally lurches into the abyss, he gives us
his best wry smile and a nonchalant shrug.
Coca-Cola successfully uses a number of agencies - including Wieden and
Kennedy, Fallon McElligott, Lowe Howard-Spink and Bartle Bogle Hegarty -
which are charged with bringing a local flavour to a global message.
But Pepsi and BBDO Worldwide, its agency of some 30 years standing, have
tended to look to their own backyard for inspiration, pin-pointing and
reflecting the American zeitgeist to perfection. They’ve used neat,
tongue-in-cheek snapshots of American life, such as the one outlined
above and, more famously, roped in all-American heroes to endorse their
product. Michael Jackson, for example, was a Pepsi singer for a while,
endorsing the brand in some subtle and some not so subtle ways, while
Shaquille O’Neal starred in a spot where a small boy, though in awe of
the basketball star, would not give him any of his Pepsi.
Most significantly, the launch of the classic ’Pepsi generation’
campaign in the 60s, which included vignettes of clean-living American
youth, caught the aspirations of America’s Baby Boomers.
Over the decades this theme developed into ’choice of a new generation’
and ’generation next’ campaigns, as Pepsi determinedly sought to align
itself with a youthful, fun-loving audience.
’We’re not single-mindedly youthful,’ cautions Felix Hall, account
manager on Pepsi at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO in London. ’Coke perhaps
has a more universal target market whereas we have tended to have a
Pepsi is now gearing up for its seasonal advertising blitz which will be
unveiled in the US on 27 January during coverage of the Super Bowl, and
the chances are that the youthful slant will continue. One of the new
commercials is rumoured to have been directed by Sam Bayer, a noted
American pop promo director, who was responsible for Nirvana’s notorious
Smells Like Teen Spirit video.
’A lot of key brands and companies launch their new campaigns during the
Super Bowl,’ explains Keith Hughes, Pepsi’s manager of public relations,
based at Pepsi headquarters in Somers, New York.
’We did the same last year with ’security camera’, which showed a Coke
delivery man caught stealing a can of Pepsi from a shelf when he was
supposed to be stocking a cooler cabinet.’ The apposite soundtrack was
Hank Williams’ Your Cheating Heart. ’Over the years Pepsi ads have
become known for their irreverence,’ Hughes adds.
As usual, the next step will be to roll the commercials out
This takes place after Pepsi and BBDO Worldwide have consulted with
local brand managers and representatives from relevant BBDO agencies.
They will advise on which executions they feel are appropriate for their
particular market - whether, for instance, the humour will travel or a
certain celebrity has a sufficiently strong profile outside the US.
’Cindy Crawford and Shaquille O’Neal translate pretty well in Europe,’
Hughes says. ’But someone like the baseball player, Deion Sanders, who
we use extensively over here, probably wouldn’t.’
’We are a truly global brand,’ Hall continues. ’It makes sense to reap
the benefits of central production. It’s then our job to decide what ads
are appropriate for particular markets.’
Press and poster campaigns as well as market-specific promotions are
generated by local BBDO agencies, as well as the occasional more
carefully targeted commercial. A recent spot in which a trio of
mollycoddled babies mutate into East 17, for instance, was put together
by BBDO Spain working closely with Abbott Mead.
While Coke dominates the market, Pepsi claims that its centralised
strategy is paying dividends; in 1995, Pepsi’s estimated retail sales
stood at USdollars 18.4 billion, and it now claims to have cornered a 24
per cent share of the global cola market. Last year’s ’change the
script’ campaign, launched in some 24 non-US territories, increased its
international profile, introducing a blue can with a dollars 500 million
marketing and advertising campaign fronted by the supermodels, Cindy
Crawford and Claudia Schiffer, and the tennis player, Andre Agassi.
One of the ’change the script’ launch commercials, ’machine’, which saw
Crawford, the blues legend, John Lee Hooker, and an assortment of
American iconography being sucked into a Heath-Robinsonesque contraption
and then spewed out as a can of blue Pepsi, boasted dollars 3 million
worth of special effects and was reportedly one of the most expensive,
if not the most popular, ads ever made.
The Pepsi brand is part of the PepsiCo corporation, one of the world’s
largest consumer products companies, which operates in 95 countries and
employs almost half a million people worldwide. Five PepsiCo drinks
brands - Pepsi itself, Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, 7-Up and Miranda - each
account for more than dollars 1 billion annually. In the US, easily the
largest soft-drink market in the world with retail sales of some dollars
52 billion, Pepsi brands account for a third of the entire sector.
PepsiCo has interests in the snack-food sector (notably Fritos in the
US, and the recently acquired Walkers in the UK) and restaurant chains
including Pizza Hut and KFC.
Clearly things have moved on since 1898, when a young pharmacist called
Caleb Bradham from North Carolina threw together a mixture of kola nut
extract, vanilla and rare oils, dubbed it Pepsi Cola and began selling
it to his regulars. And the advertising’s become a little more
sophisticated too - the first recorded Pepsi slogan from 1903 was
’exhilarating, invigorating, aids digestion’, and there wasn’t a
supermodel in sight.
So what lies at the heart of Pepsi’s strategy? According to Abbott
Mead’s Hall, it has a lot to do with the brand’s heritage. ’The entry
ticket to authenticity in the cola market is that you are American.
Pepsi has that in spades.’