In 2010, the Pepsi Co. launched a campaign that most would think was very inspirational. The campaign involved consumers from all over the country applying for grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000. Each consumer that applied for a grant had to come up with an idea that would help the world. Each idea could fall under six areas: health, arts and culture, food and shelter, the planet and neighborhoods and education. In total, for every application that was submitted Pepsi Co. said they were going to give $20 million dollars in grants to organizations and individuals that had ideas to make (refresh) the world a better place. Consumers would go onto the refresheverything.com website and vote for their favorite ideas — the winners received the grants from Pepsi.
The entire goal of the campaign was to build awareness and cultivate a long-term relationship with consumers. Shiv Singh, head of digital for PepsiCo Beverages America said, “This (campaign) was using brand dollars with the belief that when you use these brand dollars to have consumers share ideas to change the world, the consumers will win, the brand will win, and the community will win. That was a big bet. No one has done it on this scale before.” The objectives of the campaign were to raise awareness and interest in the Pepsi Refresh Project/position Pepsi as the optimistic catalyst for idea creation with consistency and alignment of program messages across all media channel, generate a steady stream of national, local and online media buzz to support business and brand goals and drive Americans to RefreshEverything.com to register and submit their ideas or vote and promote ideas that they care about. Pepsi hoped to achieve this through their campaign’s complex strategic planning. The strategies included creating intellectual capital around “where ideas come from”, positioning Pepsi as a credible motivator to empower the everyday American to be the next social entrepreneur, casting a national spotlight on the implementation of ideas for refreshing change by announcing the diversion of funds to implement the Project, collaborating with employees, bottling and retail partners to generate local news angles, drive awareness, raising awareness and increase participation at grassroots level through Hispanic and English language press, promoting RefreshEverything.com as the online destination, encouraging individuals to submit ideas and vote, encourage online engagement with the Project on Facebook or on Twitter and developing national partnerships to raise broad awareness of the Project to tell stories of Project impact and reach. Singh also said the project allowed the company to understand and learn the priorities of its customers. “There have been 120,000 ideas submitted,” he said. “It gives us a strong sense of what matters to them and what is exciting to them.”
The target audiences for the Pepsi Refresh Project were Millennials, Gen Y. and Boomer men and women. Millennials are people reaching young adulthood around the year 2000 — teenagers. Gen. Y is the generation of people boring during the 1980s and early 1900s — 20 to 30 year olds. Boomers are people born during the baby boom — approximately 75 years old. These groups of people believe positive change is very important to them, therefore Pepsi tried to target them the most.
When creating Pepsi Refresh, the Pepsi Company was faced with the challenge of finding a way to give to charity that today’s consumers would actually show an interest in. The Holmes Report, a Public Relations news circle, gave statistics that showed why Pepsi Refresh was an initial success. 84% of consumers would like to select their own charitable causes, and 83% of them want the causes to be something that they feel needs addressed. 94% of these consumers said that optimism was the key to a good idea, and 66% stated that they would like to see their ideas come to life. Based on the material listed above, Pepsi came up with the Pepsi Refresh Project, which brings all of these stats together into one program.
In order to spread the word, Pepsi would often do things called “Refresh Challenges” in which they worked with celebrities who had come up with their own ideas to spread the word. Pepsi signed contracts with the NFL, the MLB, the U.S. Men’s National Team, and NASCAR. Out of all of these athletic organizations, certain stars in the sport were told to create a challenge. People could then vote on these challenges and pick their favorite athlete to win. The New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees won, and Pepsi gave $100,000 grant to benefit Hope Lodge, a New Orleans’ based center that gives cancer patients rooms for them and their caregivers.
Because of these actions, Pepsi was one of the most talked about brands at the 2010 Super Bowl, despite the fact that they pulled their advertisements in order to save money for the Pepsi Refresh Project. Pepsi’s image improved even more when in July of that same year, the soda company announced that it would give $1.3 million in grants to help clean up the Horizon Gulf Oil Spill in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama. At this point, the Refresh Project was going well, and the recognition for Pepsi was beginning to grow.
The initial results of the Pepsi Refresh Project were great. The campaign launched in January of 2010, and by May 2011 it had funded over 12,000 projects and had more than 76 million votes on the multiple projects listed on the website. As far as the Pepsi Refresh Project gaining awareness and interest from the public, at its peak, 37% of Americans were aware of the project, and of those 37%, 25% had the proper knowledge of what the project was all about.
Pepsi had certainly generated a good amount of media buzz, greatly surpassing the impression the campaign had hoped to make. There were 3 billion audience impressions in the first 8 months. By May 2011, there were more than 140,000 tweets on the topic. Around this same time, the “likes” on Pepsi’s Facebook page had gone up by 600% since the start of the campaign, with 2 million “likers.” Now, five and a half years after the launch of the campaign, Pepsi has over 33 million “likes.” By creating the interactive website refresheverything.com, Pepsi was able to gain millennials trust, favorability, and intent to buy. In the first 11 months of the campaign, 18 million people visited refresheverything.com.
Overall, Pepsi was a success. The media ate up the Refresh Everything Project, praising Pepsi for its good deeds. However, on January 6, 2011, The New York Times published an investigation on the project. Many members of the contest were accused, by other participants of the contest, of cheating the system and getting more votes than they deserved. Participants in the contest said that Pepsi would dodge their calls and emails, skirting around the complaints and pretending that nothing was wrong. Pepsi denied these claims, saying that they had systems in place that could seek out and destroy fraudulent activity. Pepsi also stated that they would complete an investigation and act on it accordingly.
By the end of January 2011, Pepsi capped all of its grants at $50,000, and decided to focus on the Arts and Education category of the contest. In February, Pepsi advertised in the Superbowl. In March 2011, when Diet Coke passed Pepsi as being the number 2 beverage, Pepsi began to get a lot of criticism that the Refresh Project was not driving any sales. By December of 2011, the project had died out, and the last round of voting occurred. In March of 2012, refresheverything.com went blank.
Overall, Pepsi Refresh did a very good thing not only for communities, but also for the Pepsi brand. Pepsi was one of the first companies to be interactive with its consumers over social media, and today almost every company takes this approach. Of course there was going to be a voting scandal. Allison Fine, an expert on non-profit social media, told the New York Times “I don’t think I’ve heard about any of these contests where gaming isn’t an issue.” And, like everything in this fast-paced world, the program’s popularity died out and it came to an end. At least Pepsi was doing a good thing for non-profits while Refresh Everything was still popular.
Pepsi managed to address a problem and sell a product at the same time. While giving grants to organizations that worked for the greater good of the community, Pepsi Refresh was able to put the Pepsi Company in the social spotlight, branding itself to be a drink that sparks innovation and makes the common person an entrepreneur. Pepsi’s sales went up drastically during this time. In 2010, Pepsi’s revenue was at about $45 billion, and by 2012, it had reached $65 billion. Before Pepsi Refresh, Pepsico’s revenue had sat stagnant at $45 billion since 2008.
The Pepsi Refresh campaign was an excellent idea that strived to make those who learned about it envision Pepsi in a positive manner. In giving back to the community, Pepsi attempted to instill a positive message in the mind of those who knew about the Refresh Project. Pepsi wanted to make people believe that they were a charitable company. When Pepsi started this project they wanted to convince everyone who already knew the name “Pepsi” that the company was one that gives back to others rather than just another company, such as Coke, that takes your money for their own benefit.
The focus of the Pepsi Refresh campaign was to give Pepsi a better image in the community while building the Pepsi brand at the same time. This was a real life example of branding, which is a technique used to promote a company in a positive way towards the audience or consumer. Pepsi also wanted people to have a say in who won the Refresh contest, so they let the common person vote and choose the winner. This tactic made people think that since they had a say in who would win, they were a vital part of the company, even though they were not actually associated in any way. The contest was also appealing because people could get rewarded with money for their non-profit if their idea was the best and it won that round of the contest. Overall, the focus of the Pepsi Refresh project was an attempt to have the image of the Pepsi brand improved in a way that would attract more people to buy their products rather than opponents’ products.
The Pepsi Refresh project as a whole brought a lot of positive and negative attention to the company itself. Although they were trying to do a good thing and help people share their ideas,the flaws in the system concerning voting had a lasting impact on the entire campaign and gave the company bad press.
The Pepsi Refresh Project was revolutionary in many ways. Not only did it take charity to a whole new level, but it also brought social media into the picture as a way for producers to interact with consumers. The Pepsi Refresh Project did a great service for the many non-profits and the people that they help, as well as for the branding of PepsiCo. Although the Pepsi Refresh Project had to come to an end, the project was able to quench the thirst of many needy people