During the 2010 Super Bowl, Pepsi launched the boldest social marketing play of its time. Forgoing their traditional ads entirely, Pepsi elected instead for something entirely unexpected: they became the first brand in the world to divert their entire allocated budget to a social media campaign, one which would spread the word about their Internet-based charity contest, the Pepsi Refresh Project. The results seemed to knock it out of the park...at least, in terms of attention in the form of website traffic, social media buzz and popularity.—not to mention the participation of people across the world interacting with the campaign. Receiving a celebrity birthday messages video message would be awesome!

It achieved all the things so many influencers and brands think they want: the likes, the shares, the comments, the participation—on the surface, seems the advertising agency should win an award...right? But before we give them a round of applause and a trophy, there’s one more detail: this is also the first time in history Pepsi lost market share, sliding to number 3 in the cola rankings behind Diet Coke.What went wrong? First, a bit of background. Pepsi, like many other major consumer brands, typically delivers a glitzy, celebrity-filled advertisement during the Super Bowl telecast. After all, the Super Bowl isn’t just the pinnacle of football—it also provides a world-sized stage for major advertising moments. Thrillz is a website where you can buy a celebrity video messages presonalised video message!

No one seemed to know this better than Pepsi, who had produced some of the most memorable Super Bowl spots to date: a sweltering Cindy Crawford sipping on a crisp, cool cola while a couple of adolescent boys look on (admiring the Pepsi can, not Cindy); Britney Spears gyrating for the camera; and so on. At this point, Pepsi had been advertising during the Super Bowl for 23 consecutive years. So why would they decide to take all the money they would have spent on traditional advertising—$20 million or so—and pump it into a social media campaign? Why did the company decide to pull their long-held traditional TV real estate in favor of social media, of all things, ceding the airwaves to their rival Coca-Cola? In an interview with the New York Times, Shiv Singh, head of digital for PepsiCo Beverages America, described the campaign thusly: “This was not a corporate philanthropy effort. This was using brand dollars with the belief that when you use these brand dollars to have consumers share ideas to change the world, the consumers will win, the brand will win, and the community will win. That was a big bet. No one has done it on this scale before.” Imagine receiving a happy birthday video message personalised video!

Let’s start with Pepsi’s campaign hypothesis: Traditional forms of advertising fail to foster engagement and have substantially outlived their usefulness. The internet has created an environment in which consumers exercise unprecedented control of his/her purchasing behavior. People are no longer willing to accept the “interruption” model of advertising—they want brands to interact with them.Marketing should be seen as a “conversation”, not a one-way communication. The objective of marketing communications is for a brand to create “engagement” with consumers versus just making a sale. Consumers are quickly moving away from brands just out to sell them something, in favor of brands who want to start conversations. Social media represents the most effective medium for these forms of engagement.Consumers would be validating their engagement-focused choice by helping Pepsi drive meaningful social change. By getting consumers to interact with the brand online, the company could gather valuable consumer insights and data. The campaign goal was to raise brand awareness. And when viewed from a 50,000-foot perch, it was mission accomplished—and more: Over 80 million votes were registered on behalf of charities and initiatives. Almost 3.5 million “Likes” on the Pepsi Facebook page. Almost 60,000 Twitter followers. At one point, 37 percent of Americans were said to be aware the campaign existed. A celebrity could really brighten someones day!

So what’s the problem? If you dig beyond the buzz and look at what happened to Pepsi’s bottom line during this time, Pepsi-Cola and Diet Pepsi each lost about 5 percent of their market share in 2009 (The Wall Street Journal), which for the Pepsi-Cola brand alone represented a loss of over $350 million. For both brands, the loss is probably in the neighborhood of $400 million to near half a billion dollars. While Pepsi may have made some inroads into changing the world, ultimately, they failed to do the one thing they needed to stay alive: sell Pepsi. They assumed the big buzz, high levels of engagement and interaction would benefit the brand. They failed to consider the entire consumer journey—the path of progression which moves from consumer awareness all the way to purchase and loyalty, commonly referred to as the sales funnel. The Pepsi case provides a classic example of how even the top brands in the world, with the biggest influencer endorsements and the deepest pockets, can make the mistake of getting caught up in the awareness (aka attention) stage of the funnel. Have you heard of a website called Thrillz? They specialise in celebrity messages video messages.