All Articles Marketing Social Media Live from Social Media Week: 5 questions on creating brand engagement with PepsiCo's Frank Cooper

Live from Social Media Week: 5 questions on creating brand engagement with PepsiCo’s Frank Cooper

7 min read

Social Media

PepsiCo recently announced it would forgo running a traditional broadcast advertisement during this year’s Super Bowl — choosing instead to focus on a large-scale social media and philanthropy campaign: the Pepsi Refresh Project. The project will give away more than $20 million this year. Rather than simply pick a handful of causes to support, however, the company is putting the question of what initiatives to support to its consumers. Users can visit the campaigns’ Web site and vote for their favorite project in a variety of grant categories– from $5,000 to $250,000 each.  The first voting period started today.

PepsiCo’s Frank Cooper spoke about the Pepsi Refresh Project at Social Media Week’s opening session. SmartBrief on Social Media Lead Editor Jesse Stanchak caught up with Cooper to ask about the company’s goals for the project and its philosophy for creating consumer engagement through social media.

What is Pepsi’s engagement strategy? What’s the philosophical underpinning of a campaign like Pepsi Refresh?

The Pepsi Refresh campaign actually started in the beginning of 2009 or the end of 2008. We decided it was time to shift our brand behavior in a way that we started to add value to consumers. To be honest, our first foray out in 2009, we were kind of shouting from the mountaintop. Anywhere you went you saw the billboards with the wordplay, like “Wow” and “Pop” and these uplifting words. But we decided that this year it was time for the brand to actually go within culture and actually move something forward, so that it was actually getting engaged with consumers. So that Pepsi Refresh Project really is our version of walking the talk around Pepsi, creating optimism and helping people get involved.

One of the biggest challenges in launching a social campaign like this is balancing the need to maintain control of the brand’s identity with the need to give up a little control to produce engagement. How did Pepsi approach that balancing act?

We decided that we would err on the side of giving control to the users. It’s their show. It’s their ideas. It’s their voting process. We simply designed the tools. Our belief is that consumers are smart enough that they’re going to understand that this whole platform would not happen but for Pepsi. So it’s unnecessary for us to splatter our name everywhere. Now, granted, the project is called the Pepsi Refresh Project — so it’s kind of built into the fabric of the idea. But we’re not requiring anyone to make a purchase. We’re not requiring anyone to celebrate Pepsi at the end of it. But I think we’re doing something unique here, in giving consumers a way to put their ideas forward. So it’s not through traditional channels, but a channel we created. i think if they share that, it’ll benefit all of us.

Many companies are worried about how to measure the success of their social campaigns. What does success mean to you in this campaign? How will you measure it?

Great question. I actually think it’s not so difficult to measure success in the social-media space. It’s just that large corporations — and I include us — are not used to doing this. So when we turn to our toolbox of metrics and you  pull out all the different sources, you don’t see anything for social media. So there’s three ways for us to do it.

First and foremost we’re focused on relationships. We are building more relationships and we have more points of contact with our consumers. That’s a positive thing. We can measure that. We know how many more people  that we’re contacting. We can also measure the activity within the social-media space. We already see today what’s happening on Twitter. We see what’s happening on Facebook — and the response has been tremendous. And then third, I think ultimately, this whole idea of allowing people to do good through our platform, we believe will actually serve us at the shelf. I believe we will see a sales lift coming from this. Because those people who are at the market, those people who are torn between our competitors and us,  I think will tilt in our favor because of what we’re doing and how we’re giving back and how we’re adding value to people’s lives.

Pepsi’s Mountain Dew brand launched its own social-media campaign, Dewmocracy, a few years ago. In 2009, the company launched a reboot of the campaign, Dewmocracy 2.0. What did the company learn about social-media marketing in the two years between the campaigns?

Amazing things. When we first launched that, we probably started in 2007, we actually created an environment and a story, and asked people to come into that story. And through that story, we developed the next Mountain Dew product. This round, we actually reversed that completely. We said, “Let’s push it out into the social-media space, give them the tools and let them design it.” So there is no story that we created. The people — our consumers — are creating the story. They have the voice.

The second thing we did is that we decided to not limit it to just a product. We’ve given the consumers power to develop the marketing campaign associated with that. So right now, they’ve actually picked their own agencies — these three teams — they’re picking their own agency, they’re coming up with their rally cry. They’re going to have their own campaign, and we funded that piece of it.

So what we learned is: Give more power. Push more power out, [that’s lesson] No. 1. No 2, support the consumers who come onto our platform, whoever they are, let them have the opportunity to participate in Dewmocracy. And I think the results right now are going to prove themselves. It’s really been successful for us.

Last year, Pepsi’s Amp brand released a controversial iPhone app that upset some users. PepsiCo responded by issuing a statement from the Pepsi brand, bringing their biggest brand into the conversation. What did the company learn from that experience about responding to criticism and handling mistakes?

It’s an ongoing process for us, how we manage the relationship between the brand and the corporation. And I would not say we’ve completely solved. It’s case by case. One of the things we learned is that you have to — any brand that’s going play in the social-media space, because it’s a conversational medium, any brand has to have the willingness and the thick skin to hear criticism.

And I think the thing we learned the most is: Before you actually launch you project and launch into a conversation, you as a brand have to be completely confident about your position, because you will get criticism. You will have a negative reaction. If you didn’t get a negative reaction, that means you’re standing neutral and you have no point of view. Who wants to participate in that?

Once you decide what your point of view is, you have to stick with it, believe in it, defend it. But also be open to change if you think that whatever opposing comments you’re hearing are actually right. So it is a conversation. It will be fluid. We don’t have all the answers right now. But I know that growing up, as a brand, we have to have more confidence about the positions that we take.

Image credit, BlueLemonPhoto, via iStock