Pepsi's recent announcement that it would not advertise its soft drink during this year's Super Bowl shocked and no doubt rankled a few nerves at ad agencies and broadcasters alike. As risky as it might seem to give up 100 million viewers and a 23-year history with the big game, the bigger shock is that more marketers haven't followed its lead.
Big event and sports partnerships certainly raise brand awareness and create temporary buzz, but so do much cheaper YouTube videos. Moreover, buzz does not equal trust, engagement, or dedicated fans. Pepsi has undoubtedly done its homework and found that the Super Bowl isn't proving a game-changer in the ongoing slide of soft drink sales in the US.
Other PepsiCo brands will continue to create Super Bowl spots, but Pepsi leadership said it is no longer the right opportunity for the soft-drink brand. Instead, it will focus on "social engagement" by putting marketing muscle behind its CSR initiative to provide grants to "fund great ideas" in areas like health and education, creating good will.
A global, historic brand like Pepsi doesn't need brand awareness at this point. It needs to re-engage. And it has now created the opportunity to really engage new and old audiences as it spreads the word about this program on social networks and elsewhere.
The nature of a tiered program like the Refresh Project also provides continual brand and engagement opportunities, rather than a quick February buzz. There will be excitement when the public pitches projects, when voting begins, when winners are announced, and yet again in follow-ups on grants' achievements.
All marketers have to make the choice that's right for their brand. Denny's, for example, used Super Bowl advertising smartly last year. Its call to action (a free meal during a financially strained year) spawned immense goodwill and kicked off its messaging and marketing strategy for the whole year. Pepsi deserves credit for making the wisest choice for its brand.