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Where Social Responsibility Meets Corporate Responsibility

by on June 20, 2010

Earlier this year, PepsiCo opted to give away $20 million in donations through a social media campaign/contest, rather than paying for a $3 million 30-second advertising slot during the superbowl. While this itself was a shock to some, I believe that this is a classic example in which the benefits significantly outweigh the risks.

For a company that’s spent $254 million in Superbowl advertising over the past two decades, PepsiCo is in my view doing the right thing.

“The Refresh Project is a single, year-long marketing effort…launched Jan. 13, consumers apply for grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 in one of six areas: health, arts and culture, food and shelter, the planet, neighborhoods and education.” Phone Marketing Insider, 2010,

In the time that PepsiCo has been in existence, this example more than ever proves that the corporate giant is open adapting with the evolution of marketing strategies. They wouldn’t be around today if they did not follow the ebb and flow of marketing,  The campaign itself raised extensive awareness into what PepsiCo was trying to accomplish, and resulted in much conversation (and controversy!) around the topic.

I will discuss several instances in which the benefits of the campaign were highlighted, but first I’d like to point out a key element. While some may think that I may have picked too broad of a topic or too large of a company, I truly believe that this is the first high-visibility example of successful social computing because it effectively juxtaposes (a) social responsibility with (b) corporate responsibility –– a combination rarely found and extremely difficult to pull off in this day and age.

  • Bonin Bough, PepsiCo’s global director of digital and social media, said that this campaign aims to create a movement, not just a moment.
  • Jason Falls, author of the Social Mediai Explorer Blog said that this campaign is a program that (a) can make hundreds of little impacts over time, any of which may snowball into larger impacts and (b) puts the power of who makes the decision of money distribution into the hands of the voters (i.e., customer or audience).
  • AdAge notes that “the payoff is the opportunity to build ongoing connections with customers who begin to see Pepsi as a brand that supports them rather than just another marketer blanketing the airwaves and internet with impressions.” This concept of global reputation is discussed further in the next item.
  • Bret O’Brien, Mountain Dew Marketing Director, said that PepsiCo is trading off reach for depth and short-term impact for long-term impact. This notion, in my view, goes for not only the improvement of the community but also for the improvement of PepsiCo’s reputation and visibility in the global market.

It doesn’t stop there. PepsiCo’s recently released iPhone application (entitled Pepsi Loot app) showed not only continued initiative in social marketing tactics, but also ended in an official partnership with FourSquare. Additionally, PepsiCo has been very effective in following up with any complaints that may arise, as seen in the comments section of a TechCrunch article on the security of its submitters.

On a final, and more personal note, I looked at this campaign as inspiration in an integrated marketing communications project I did last semester at Georgetown. We helped create guidelines for a video contest to help a non-profit annual event that hadn’t been getting enough community recognition or audience participation. The idea was very well received and just goes to show that little, effective ideas DO in fact have the potential of turning into something much bigger!

The following video highlights a social media panel that PepsiCo hosted in 2009 – likely around the time that PepsiCo was in the final planning stages of their Refresh campaign. Participants discuss the ever-changing social media platforms and companies’ abilities to adapt to them.


From → USA

  1. Nice recap of the Pepsi Refresh Project and analysis of the thinking behind it. It is certainly one of the most significant brand investments in a social media program of its sort and your choice and sharing of some of the reasons why was a very well chosen post for this week. You mentioned near the end of your post that the program inspired you to create guidelines for a video program – leaving the reader wanting to hear more about what type of guidelines you created and how you related the lessons from the Pepsi Refresh Project to your own efforts. Your sharing the video at the end seemed like it could add context, but the analysis or reasoning behind that and what you took from the panel in the video was missing from the end of your post as well. (4)

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