November 3, 2008
So my curiosity was piqued when Edelman’s Steve Rubel let it be known to his Twitter-verse the other day that one of the agency’s clients, Pepsi, had set up a room on Friendfeed called the Pepsi Cooler, which asks consumers to “Join us as together we shape Pepsi’s social media future. We’re changing the way we do things and want to have you along for the ride.” (Friendfeed, if you’re not familiar, is a social site that aggregates members’ social activity into a feed, so, for example, one’s tweets, blog postings and so forth can all be accessed in one place.)
If you haven’t heard, Pepsi has been doing quite the top-to-bottom revamp except for what’s in the can. And while that includes, by one account, more than $1 million and changes to its logo and packaging, it also includes an earnest effort to use social media channels, such as the aforementioned Friendfeed, YouTube and Flickr. On Flickr, it has posted multiple picture of its new packaging, to a smattering of decidedly mixed reviews. “I love it, is totally minimalistic!” says ghostbar. “Waste of money!” proclaims m@ntrax. After spending $1 million, that’s gotta hurt. Still, props to Pepsi for trying to figure out what consumers really think of their brand, and by that I’m talking about a brand the consumer clearly owns, as trite as it is to say..
However, so far, the Pepsi Cooler has just over 150 members, and I suspect many of them are social media wonks like me who are much more interested in this big brand experiment than Pepsi itself. There’s an awful lot of discussion at the Pepsi Cooler about social media and branding, instead of the relaunched Pepsi.
But, in a sense, that’s probably not disappointing. Part of what Pepsi is looking for in this is first-mover advantage. According to Bart Casabona, one of three Pepsi employees (in addition to Rubel), who are staffing the site: “Frankly, we decided to create the Pepsi Cooler on FriendFeed because it’s never been done before by a big company and we like the idea of playing in the influencer’s backyard.” Think of it as the 2008 version of hiring Britney Spears, back in the day, to star in your Super Bowl ad. As far as measuring the initiative, Casabona says, “Measurement and metrics are focused on a sustained dialogue with our consumers about topics that matter to them and us.”
I’m hoping at some point the dialogue will move on from discussion of whether the new logo, which is intended to look like a smile, really looks like one. Once the brand’s redesign has ceased being news, Pepsi will have to find ways to engage its audience in different ways, and with the world teetering on the brink of God-knows-what, it would be great, for instance, if the brand started to leverage its presence in ways that helped its beleaguered consumers. Metaphorically, to keep the smile going. As Pepsi has clearly stated that this is a work in progress, maybe they’ll take me up on my suggestion. A girl can dream, can’t she?
Of course, it’s easy to criticize Pepsi’s social media initiative. As Make the Logo Bigger pointed out, Pepsi would have done well to use social media channels, rather than Peter Arnell, to work on the logo. That would have moved this effort toward the revolutionary.
However, at this point, despite what us fashion-forward socialistas say, that’s a tough argument to make inside corporate America. It will come, all in good time. It’s a good first step for Pepsi to realize that we’re out there, and that we talk back..
While you’re contemplating that point, just for fun, take a moment to think what it would have been like if Friendfeed had existed back when new Coke was laumched. A girl can dream, can’t she?
Catharine P. Taylor has been covering digital media and advertising for almost 15 years. She currently writes daily about advertising on her blog, Adverganza.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org