The Pepsi Challenge Returns—With Social Twists

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The original Pepsi Challenge was a TV ad campaign that ran back in the day when people drank sodas without reservation. PepsiCo’s biggest problem at the time was trying to gain share on Coca-Cola by setting up taste-tests across the country. Seems quaint by today’s standards, but it’s the best-known sampling program in history.

This week, the brand announced it’s resurrecting the Pepsi Challenge—but with a social twist. As carbonated soft drinks lose popularity and PepsiCo realigns its beverage line-up to appeal to health-conscious consumers, the year-long campaign will focus on social media and social responsibility.

“We’ve taken the DNA of the Pepsi Challenge, then reinterpreted it for a new generation,” Brad Jakeman, President of PepsiCo’s Global Beverages Group, told the New York Times. “Now more than ever, we are in a world where consumers expect to hear from the brands they love in whole different ways.”[more]

The Pepsi Challenge will take place at local and global levels, encouraging consumers around the world to make every moment—big or small—epic, and to “Live for Now,” per its current global tagline.

It will incorporate several areas of pop culture: technology, music, sports and design. And it will include easy ways for fans to exercise some social responsibility along the way.

Celebrities including Usher, Serena Williams, James Rodriguez, Jerome Jarre and Usani Bolt will be participating in the new Pepsi Challenge, according to the New York Times.

They will help recruit participants for a series of social media challenges to “Do Something Different.”

Fashion designer Nicola Formichetti, for example, will present the first challenge from Hong Kong—to bring light to poor communities using plastic Pepsi bottles filled with water and bleach to refract sunlight.

To encourage millennials’ participation, every time someone uses the hashtag #PepsiChallenge on their social media profiles, Pepsi will donate $1 to the Liter of Light organization, which provides sustainable lighting in emerging countries.

Pepsi is trying to create a “cross-pollination of experiences, events, community and social advocacy, designed to ignite a mindset that challenges the status quo, our fans and ourselves,” said Kristin Patrick, CMO for PepsiCo global beverage brands, in a press release.

The new Pepsi Challenge will be global in ways the original could not be, taking advantage of the ubiquity of the social web and acknowledging the growing importance and distinct sensibilities of local markets. For instance, Pepsi will challenge consumers in India to create their own Pepsi ads to be shown during this year’s Indian Premier League cricket games.

PepsiCo isn’t the only cola company using nostalgic tactics in its ad campaigns.

Coca-Cola is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its iconic “contour bottle” with a series of ads, tie-ins with designers, an exhibition at Atlanta’s High Museum, a traveling art exhibit and other marketing.

What’s more, it’s also changing its can and bottle packaging designs in Europe and tweaking them in the US for a more unified master brand strategy.

Another commonality between the two rivals: They are both looking to other non-soda beverages in their product line for growth.

Coke officially entered the dairy market with its nutritionally enhanced Fairlife milk brand. The marketing campaign for the premium-priced drink—produced by a joint venture with a small dairy—touts it as providing much more protein and calcium than regular milk, but with only about half the native sugar.

Meanwhile, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi is reminding consumers that the company’s transition toward better-for-you beverages has already helped eliminate 6.4 trillion calories from the American diet.

So while the Pepsi Challenge seeks once again to differentiate the brand from Coke, the two rivals may actually have more in common now than ever before.

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