The Pepsi Challenge is back, with a twist.
Forget the blind taste tests that pitted Pepsi against Coke, a hallmark of the classic, wildly successful advertising campaign that made its debut 40 years ago. This time, Pepsi has signed a crowd of celebrities, including Usher, Serena Williams and Usain Bolt, to recruit consumers to participate in a series of challenges meant for the social media generation. The yearlong promotion began Wednesday.
“We’ve taken the DNA of the Pepsi Challenge, then reinterpreted it for a new generation,” said Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo’s global beverages group. “Now more than ever, we are in a world where the consumer expects to hear from the brands they love in whole different ways.”
Every month, Pepsi “ambassadors” will use social media to issue a new challenge - many of which blend social responsibility with popular culture - that encourages consumers to “do something different.” Later this month, for instance, the fashion designer Nicola Formichetti will present the first challenge from Hong Kong to bring light to poor communities across the globe using plastic Pepsi bottles filled with water and bleach to refract sunlight.
All the challenges will focus on social media in some way, and they could involve technology, music or sports. Over the summer, the singer Usher will participate in a video that involves footage from space. (No, PepsiCo executives said, they are not sending Usher into orbit.)
James Rodríguez, the soccer star; Williams, the tennis champion; and Bolt, the Olympic sprinter, will also present challenges, presumably of the athletic variety. Pepsi has also signed on Jerome Jarre, a name that people over the age of 30 may not recognize but who is a bona fide star on the social networks Vine and Snapchat.
Pepsi has declined to reveal exact details of the challenges.
Reviving the Pepsi Challenge represents an effort by the brand to stand out by exploiting the mass recognition of a previously successful idea. Other marketers and media companies also have deployed a similar strategy, bringing back characters and ideas with built-in recognition. Pepsi’s archrival, Coca-Cola, for instance, recently announced a new yearlong campaign to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its iconic bottle.
And there are, of course, the movie-franchise sequels that now dominate the box office.
Yet the approach comes with a risk: that the remake of a retro idea doesn’t live up to the hype of the past. “You don’t want to milk the equity,” Jakeman said. “You actually want to add to it.”
Jakeman added that it was easier to stand out with big, bold advertising campaigns years ago, before the age of commercial skipping and the proliferation of social media.
“All you had to do was make a television commercial,” he said. “It is not about one big epic television commercial anymore. It is about this continuing dialogue.”
The new advertisements come as Pepsi is aiming to expand its global presence, particularly in emerging markets. A major part of the new Pepsi Challenge involves bringing a local perspective to the global campaign and creating individual and distinct campaigns region by region.
The plan, which represents a broader push across the marketing industry, is a recognition of the global nature of the Internet but it also takes regional cultural differences into consideration.
Pepsi, for example, will challenge consumers in India to create their own Pepsi ads that could be shown during this year’s Indian Premier League cricket games, which are sponsored, as it so happens, by Pepsi. There are also plans for a music challenge in Latin America and a food-related challenge in Thailand.
“The context in which consumers live really mandated for us as a brand to be as locally relevant as possible,” said Carla Hassan, PepsiCo’s chief marketing officer for the Middle East and Africa region. “There are cultural differences and also behavioral differences. We want to make sure we’re being respectful to the cultural norms.”
Like a wave of other brands today, Pepsi is also using the ad campaign to appeal to the millennial generation’s sense of responsibility to give back. Every time consumers use #PepsiChallenge on their social media profiles, Pepsi will donate $1 to the Liter of Light organization, which has provided sustainable lighting to more than 18 countries, including Kenya and Colombia.
Millennials have embraced these types of click-driven, purpose-driven campaigns – the Ice Bucket Challenge, for example, exploded on the Internet last summer – but it’s not clear whether people will be as eager to support a corporate challenge.