PepsiCo has been making big news this year, in large part for its products but more so for its Pepsi Refresh Project, a cause-marketing-based program in which the company plans to award $20 million in grants in 2010. Jeff Dubiel, Pepsi vp-sports marketing, explains how alliances with the NFL, MLB, Nascar and MLS are driving activation, how such athletes as Drew Brees, Jeff Gordon, CC. Sabathia and Evan Longoria are raising awareness, and how the World Cup, Super Bowl and other sports events all fit into PepsiCo's current and future strategies.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted June 17, 2010)
PepsiCo is a major player in sports via such brands as Gatorade, Mountain Dew, Propel, Amp, SoBe, Aquafina, Frito Lay and its namesake Pepsi. But the company is now using its alliances for a new endeavor. Working with sports marketing partners NFL, MLB, Nascar and Major League Soccer, the company launched and is driving recognition of its Pepsi Refresh Project, through which it intends to award upward of $20 million in 2010 to individuals, businesses and non-profit groups who submit ideas and projects that are making or will make a difference in their community.
The effort went public via a strategically savvy move in which Pepsi decided not to run TV spots during Super Bowl XLIV for the first time since 1987 (sibling Doritos was part of the TV roster), instead directing attention toward Refresh Project. PepsiCo had spent about $175 million on Super Bowl TV spots from 1999-2009, according to market research firm Kantar Media (formerly TNS Media Intelligence).
Launch support included NFL "ambassadors" Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints), Mark Sanchez (New York Jets) and DeMarcus Ware (Dallas Cowboys), each of whom submitted project ideas that were voted on by the public. Brees, who was named MVP of Super Bowl XLIV, won and was awarded a $100,000 grant for Hope Lodge in New Orleans; Sanchez and Ware were awarded $25,000 each for their projects.
In terms of response, that tactic had to be deemed a success. PepsiCo said it received more than 375 million impressions and garnered more than 300,000 votes for the NFL-themed activation. However, how this and subsequent Refresh Project initiatives will impact PepsiCo's bottom line may not be known until the company's Q2 2010 financial report is released on July 20, and more likely not until PepsiCo's 2010 annual report is released.
In May, Pepsi enlisted MLS "ambassadors" Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Stuart Holden — all of whom are members of the U.S. National soccer team now participating in the FIFA World Cup — to submit project ideas. Public voting ended just prior to the start of the World Cup; Howard received the most votes and was awarded a $100,000 grant for the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome (Dempsey and Holden received smaller grants for their respective projects). Pepsi plans to embellish the MLS activation later this season.
In June, Pepsi unveiled its Nascar-related leg of Refresh Project with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson as ambassadors. Again, each driver proposed a project, with the public voting (through June 23) on which idea will win.
Pepsi has already launched its MLB-themed Refresh Project campaign with a national TV spot (from lead agency TBWA\Chiat\Day, Los Angeles) featuring "ambassadors" C.C. Sabathia (New York Yankees), Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay Rays) and Johnny Damon (Detroit Tigers). During the course of a game they discuss humorous possible projects (organic gardening in the bullpen, a senior prom for senior citizens). With the MLB All-Star Game coming in July, and with marketing deals with 15 MLB teams, it seems likely that this leg of the Pepsi Refresh Project will be expanded and enhanced.
But Refresh Project has not been limited to sports. Earlier this year, via the Pepsi Refresh Celebrity Challenge on Pepsi's Facebook page, Demi Moore was awarded $250,000 to support Girls Educational & Mentoring Services and Kevin Bacon received $100,000 to support SixDegrees.org.
Beyond advancing this initiative, PepsiCo has other major challenges in its sports-related future Among them: Whether or not to return to TV advertising for Super Bowl XLV (which will be held in Cowboys Stadium, where Pepsi has pouring rights); how to best navigate the growing and ever-evolving landscape of marketing to sports consumers; and how to best take advantage of the NFL's decision to hold Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014 outdoors at the New Meadowlands Stadium, where Pepsi is one of four cornerstone partners (along with Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser, MetLife and Verizon). Jeff Dubiel, who has been vp-sports marketing at Pepsi-Cola North America since November 2008, spoke with NYSportsJournalism.com about the company's sports marketing strategies.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How would you describe the first few months of Project Refresh?
Jeff Dubiel: It has been hugely successful, especially because of the amount of attention and the number of folks that were brought in by our ambassadors. [Through early June] we funded more than 100 projects and awarded more than $5 million. It is, by choice, the biggest project we are working on from a Pepsi standpoint. The great thing about this is that is doesn't stop with the awarding of the grant. There is so much opportunity for us to go much deeper with each of the ideas in terms of how they are progressing through the community, and then to come back and talk to the fans about it.
NYSJ: Pepsi had a significant presence during Super Bowl XLIV, including sponsoring Fan Jam and Pepsi Musica Fan Jam and hosting the NFL Rookie of the Year award. But Pepsi did not run ads during the telecast of Super Bowl XLIV. What was the ROI on that decision?
JD: In fact, the NFL Super Bowl piece really blew away any initial expectations as to how consumers would respond. There were more than 375 million impressions generated around the Super Bowl, and the onsite portion got right around 300,000 votes. At the end of the day, the NFL provides a huge platform. The NFL is a great partner. When we were putting together strategy for the Refresh Project launch, we chose to take a different path. It obviously generated a lot of news and a lot of media and consumer interest. The best way to put it is that we were not surprised but pleasantly pleased with the level of attention and the awareness it drove.
NYSJ: Has Pepsi made a decision yet whether or not there will be TV on Fox during the telecast of Super Bowl XLV from Cowboys Stadium?
JD: We haven't made a decision yet. I can't really comment on that.
NYSJ: But at this time Pepsi has not decided to again refrain from advertising during the game?
JD: No. Absolutely not.
NYSJ: Why have sports and sports marketing been so important to the Refresh Project?
JD: We are trying to raise awareness across all of our major Pepsi sports platforms. Using our sports alliances has been beneficial in a lot of ways. It helps us to aggregate a lot of really cool work that we are doing against sports into one major program. For Pepsi, the fact that we have the ability to use such broad and great sports platforms to drive awareness of this initiative is fantastic. At the Super Bowl, we were very successful in and around Miami where we had Drew Brees, Mark Sanchez and DeMarcus Ware drive awareness among fans and consumers. So now we are using the same basic mechanics for each sport.
NYSJ: Although it's early on, how has the Nascar initiative been received?
JD: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson are very involved and engaged with their ideas, and we hope that generates a lot of awareness. The interesting aspect is that Jeff has been a long-time Pepsi guy, but Dale is a Mountain Dew guy and Jimmie is a Gatorade guy. But they thought so highly of the Pepsi idea that they both wanted to participate. This portion [of the voting] does not end until June 23, but we anticipate a strong fan reaction.
NYSJ: The World Cup has attracted a lot of casual and non-soccer fans to the sport, so how will you continue to tap into that market?
JD: In May we launched the initiative with Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Stuart Holden, all members of the U.S. national team [now] in South Africa. Later in the season, we are going to have one player "ambassador" from each of the 16 MLS teams, and each team will have a project idea. Players will be endorsing their respective team's project and directing fans to the MLS Web site to vote. We want fans to be very involved in their communities to organize behind their team's project, and across the entire league to raise awareness for each of the projects. The team with the most votes will be awarded the largest grant, and each of the other projects also will receive a grant.
NYSJ: With the MLB All-Star Game in July and Pepsi's marketing alliances with 15 MLB teams, are you considering expanding with baseball in a similar manner as MLS all the way through to the World Series?
JD: We are running a TV spot with Johnny Damon, C.C. Sabathia and Evan Longoria. We have a lot of plans to expand on this which we can't talk about yet.
"What's been great in the sports category is that we've been able to connect the huge power of all the different leagues together in one major Pepsi brand program."
NYSJ: Has PepsiCo received any negative feedback from people who feel that a large corporation is doing this mainly for the publicity?
JD: I can't really speak to those people who would have expressed that thought. The simple idea is about Pepsi refreshing the world, which goes back a couple of years ago when we changed the essence of the brand and new packaging came onto the market. The idea is that we want to make the world a better place and that we want to fund big ideas. I don't know how much push back we would get there. If anything, with the Refresh Project, we still have a lot of room to grow. We are still generating awareness and we are hoping that's what will keep carrying us. We are fostering innovation and social good. We are going to provide $20 million [this year alone] to fund ideas that make the world a better place.
NYSJ: What was the reaction to the NFL's decision to select the New Meadowlands Stadium as the site of Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, where PepsiCo is one of the four cornerstone partners?
JD: We were doing jumping jacks (Laughs). We have had long-term relationships with the New York Giants and Jets. But the objective all along has been to do bigger and better things with them. Are we excited that the Super Bowl is coming to New York? Absolutely. I can't think of a better place to have the Super Bowl. Everything gets bigger in New York and more exciting. So why not.
NYSJ: PepsiCo brand SoBe had a 3D commercial with DreamWorks during Super Bowl XLIII for Monsters vs. Aliens. Any plans from PepsiCo to do more 3D commercials?
JD: We always are looking at a lot of different options and means to communicate and I'm sure we are looking at 3D.
NYSJ: What about the Super Bowl being played outdoors in the cold weather?
JD: Not only was football meant to be played in the cold, but the best games you watch out there are the ones in the snow. The NHL Winter Classic has been outdoors, and they got hockey folks outside for a game in January in Boston. People were psyched. So with the Super Bowl in the Meadowlands, it will be great for New York, it is great for Pepsi because it's right in our own back yard (PepsiCo is headquartered in Purchase, NY) and it will be great for our partnership [with the NFL].
NYSJ: How has the tremendous growth of social media, viral marketing and experiential marketing affected PepsiCo's strategies?
JD: Although that isn't what Pepsi Refresh Project is all about, it certainly is a change in terms of how we approaching and talking to consumers. What has been great in the sports category is that we have been able to connect the huge power of all the different leagues together in one major Pepsi brand program. Before we had initiatives, but Major League Baseball would be different from NFL which would be different from MLS. Frankly, we are hoping that the power of connectivity will make a lot of noise and drive awareness among consumers.
NYSJ: When you look at the sports landscape, do you feel as if Pepsi has been able to reach consumers among the plethora of messages they constantly receive from a multitude of sources?
JD: With Project Refresh what we have learned from the NFL piece is that we are reaching consumers. So our takeaway about the power of sports and the NFL was, Wow! We are certainly hoping to replicate that moving forward but it's a little too early to tell. At the end of the day we are tied into a lot of cool sports and leagues. The Pepsi sports world is a good one. There is a lot of opportunity.