Did Pepsi give Social Media a black eye?


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Social Media naysayers have been having a field day these past few weeks. Last month, after Beverage Digest reported that Pepsi’s flagship brand slipped into third place (behind Coca Cola’s Diet Coke brand) in the cola wars, a meme started making its rounds that money spent in Social Media was a waste, at least as far as major brands are concerned.

As proof, Social Media detractors point to two prominent marketers who cast their lot in Social Media and (apparently) came up losers—Pepsi and Burger King.

Some background: this past year, Pepsi opted not to advertise in the Super Bowl, instead embarking on the ambitious “Pepsi Refresh” project in Social Media. And Burger King, in lieu of matching McDonald’s dollar-for-dollar in paid media, instead leaned heavily on such noted Social Media campaigns as the Whopper Sacrifice and the Subservient Chicken.

And here we are, with Pepsi sales down 5% year/year, and the brand mired in third place. And Burger King having just experienced its sixth consecutive quarter of declining sales.

Some of the loudest voices in the room would have you believe it’s all Social Media’s fault.

If only things were that cause-and-effect.

The truth is, looking at the situations from the 10,000 foot level, just as you’d suspect, both marketers have challenges that go well beyond the decision of whether or not to tweet regularly or start a Facebook page. Both entered the recession #2 in a market with a strong dominant leader (in dicey economic times, market leaders can be expected to outperform the category to everyone else’s detriment). Both marketers suffered unsettling turnover in marketing and management. And most telling, both have made questionable marketing moves beyond the scope of Social Media. Pepsi, once the choice of the “new generation,” lost that mantle to emerging products such as Mountain Dew, Gatorade and the assorted energy drinks, then compounded matters by going through its much-lambasted multi-million dollar Peter Arnell logo redesign (exemplified by the much-mocked memo which infamously equated the new design with “the Earth’s magnetic fields and the sun’s radiation”). And Burger King? The marketer used nearly 60% of its ad budget in late 2010 in an ill-fated attempt to unseat McDonald’s dominance in the breakfast daypart. That fiasco made Gallipoli look like a stand-off.

And interestingly enough, at the current time, both marketers are operating without a Chief Marketing Officer. I’d wager that the lack of a strong visionary marketing leader has more to do with the brands’ struggles than decisions as to where it spends its marketing bucks.

Not to totally absolve Pepsi and Burger King’s Social media efforts of all blame. For starters, Social Media proponents were way too ebullient about the efforts, and heaped much praise on them before they ever generated an inkling of a result. And the strategies of both (if you can call them that) were questionable, in my opinion.

Regarding the Pepsi Refresh Project, the marketer seemed way more interested in the “crowdsourcing” part of the project than the actual good works being done. It seemed more like a marketing ploy than an authentic “cause marketing” campaign. Pepsi didn’t focus on a single unifying cause, like safe drinking water to the world or shoes for kids in developing nations. The emphasis on the crowdsourcing element proved controversial as well. There were well-publicized allegations of cheating. The projects touted by well-organized and well-connected non-profits benefited at the expense of average grass-roots consumers. Nowhere was this more evident that in the Gulf Refresh Project launched just after the BP oil spill. You can read about the issues we found with that project here.

And for Burger King? While its Social Media efforts were entertaining, product-focused and well-integrated into its media advertising, it all had a very tactical feel to it. Burger King has long lacked a cohesive strategic platform. What does the brand stand for? I’d bet if you asked 10 consumers, you might get 10 different answers.

Sorry, but “If only they’d have been in the Super Bowl” is not a grown-up response to the ails of Pepsi and Burger King. Marketers who think in terms of “either/or” when it comes to paid media versus Social Media are embarrassingly out of touch. Social Media, when used correctly and integrated into offline efforts, add depth to and amplify a winning strategy. (Great examples of this include the recent Evian “Rollerskaing Babies” and Old Spice “Man on a Horse” campaigns). Conversely, without a winning strategy, Social Media (as with any other media) are reduced to a series of “throw-it-against-the-wall” tactics. Just like an aimless logo redesign or a tagline-du-jour.

And speaking of Content Strategy (how’s that for a segue?), that will be what I’m covering in the upcoming intensive Social Media workshop through GSI’s BizStreet on April 28. If you’re interested, find out more and register here. Hope to see you there.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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