Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Cola Wars - this time it's social

They will be a massive break with tradition this coming Super Bowl Sunday. Yes as usual Americans will be glued to their screens (mostly TV screens) for 4 hours or so. There'll be 2 teams trying to outwit and out-muscle each other on the pitch and yes there'll still be a Mamouth spectacular half-time shows, led by the Who.

But there will be a difference during the now legendary half-time TV commercial breaks. For the 1st time in a quarter of a century one of the 2 soft-drink giants will not be there to compete. PepsiCo - home of Pepsi, Gatorade, Mountain Dew and various salty snacks - this year will not be paying in the region of $ 3 million for a 30 second spot. This year, PepsiCo is putting everything into a $ 20mill social media led campaign called The Pepsi Refesh Project.

As part of this CSR scheme, the Purchase-based firm will give donations, ranging in value from $5,000 (€3,592; £3,140) to $250,000, to good causes in the US, with a budget of $20 million in all. Web users will be able to vote for the individuals, groups and organisations which they consider worthy of receiving this funding, with up to 32 grants being awarded every month.

AOL, MTV, NBCU Universal and Yahoo are among the media partners for this communications drive, while Pepsi will also sponsor a reality series, If I Can Dream, on Hulu, the video-on-demand platform.Facebook and Twitter will be among the other services Pepsi will employ in spreading its message.

What is interesting here are two things.

Firstly that Coke is also using social media to promote a huge CSR programme this year. But it is buying into the Superbowl airtime in order to promote its own scheme. Visitors to a dedicated page on Facebook will be able to view a sneak preview of one of these ads if they send a branded "virtual gift" is one of their friends on the service before the Super Bowl. Each time such a "gift" is delivered over duration of the month-long scheme, the beverage maker will award $ 1 to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, with a total budget of $ 500,000.

So these two behemoths of FMCG marketing are attempting to play the same game but with different tools. Will Pepsi's purely social punt (delberate pun) see them victorious by creating a larger 'reward' pot and letting the power of the idea generate the traffic required. Or will Coke's 'shock and awe' tactic of using the immense Superbowl audience (ranging from 80-130 million individuals), who tend to deliberately view the half time ads (and indeed PVR them to play again and again), see Coke generate big numbers to this site.

Either way, heres the second interesting point. Both companies are now talking about a new post-digital age where 'experimentation is over'. A recognition of the value to them of digital media that allows and encourages a two-way dialogue.

Clearly it will be interesting to track the evolution of these 2 similar campaigns, sowing the seeds of interest in different ways. It will also be interesitng to see how may of the Superbowl ads (generally always especially created for the event) will have a social media elememt or at the very least a Facebook URL. And look out for more of the same at the next global event of this scale - FIFA 2010 in South Africa.

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