Get a 20 Million Dollar Lesson from Pepsi

by | Feb 11, 2019 | General, Social Media, Training, Work

Thanks to social media, we all know the quote, “Those who do remember the past are bound to repeat them.” This also holds true for marketing. As a digital marketer or business owner, it’s so easy to fall in the trap of likes and shares without seeing the ultimate goal of sales. Learning from the experience is “expensive education” especially for the client’s side, and the only way to avoid it is through studying other campaigns.

Huge corporations are great study subjects because they have a huge marketing budget. It’s a great way to let them fund our “expensive education”. Big companies like Pepsi have also had their fair share of online marketing blunders, especially when they were still starting and experimenting on social media. Let’s check out the Pepsi Refresh campaign that they launched back in 2010.

This is the perfect campaign to study because it was the first time that Pepsi waived on Super Bowl television ads budget in order to explore the potential of social media, and cause-related marketing to make a difference in its business. In other words, they were testing social media as an effective marketing tool, which is probably the position where most of you are in your business.

So instead of using their $1.3 million TV ads budget, they redirected it to launch their first digital campaign called Pepsi Refresh. This project encouraged people to submit their social cause ideas through a website. People can vote on which projects will receive $5,000 to $250,000 in grants.

This website generated a high level of traffic and received over 1,000 submissions in less than a month. In total, this website had over 18 million unique visitors, obtained about 80 million votes, and generated nearly 150,000 tweets. Pepsi ended up giving away a total of $20 million in grants.

This, is our $20,000,000 education. Let’s learn from this digital marketing campaign.

What should be the criteria to evaluate a digital marketing promotional campaign?

There are three steps in the buying process which are: Awareness, Consideration and Decision/Conversion.

We encounter this all time. If you have ever tried to run a facebook ad, you’ll see them presented as campaign objectives.

Before starting any campaign, you should choose between the three, and identify that as the main objective. The end goal is conversion of course, however, let’s explore these three goals further.


Unknown brands and companies should always start with this goal. No one buys from a company they do not know.

Converted to a digital sense, this means:

  • page likes
  • page follows,
  • as well as post reach.


At this stage, your market already knows who you are, and you need to convince them to buy your products and services instead of your competitions’.

Converted to a digital sense, this means:

  • traffic to your site
  • views on your videos
  • messages on your page
  • and engagements on your posts


This is the end goal where your market already knows you, and probably ranks you among their top 3 choices.

Converted to a digital sense, this means:

  • store visits
  • actual conversion/sales

Was the Pepsi Refresh Project successful? Why or why not?

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • 1,000 submissions in less than a month.
  • 18 million unique visitors,
  • 80 million votes,
  • 150,000 tweets

And the fact that this was back in 2010, it’s easy to think that Pepsi Refresh was very successful.

However, we all know that Pepsi is already a poplar cola brand. known world-wide. It ranked second to Coca Cola, which means that their marketing goals should fall under Consideration or Conversion.

So how did the sales do after launching Pepsi Refresh?

It actually had a negative impact. Sales dropped, and caused the brand a decline in the market share, leaving them in third place behind Coke and Diet Coke.

Why did it do so badly?

It lacked authenticity.

Yes the campaign was a novel idea at that time, and it did garner a lot of mileage for the company. However, the Pepsi Refresh campaign, which was all about creating projects to help society, was not at all aligned with Pepsi’s branding, which is youth and fun.

In the end, even if the public did participate, submit and vote for projects, they just did not relate it to buying and drinking Pepsi.

What should Pepsi do about this project?

Like I said earlier, I do believe this was a novel idea, and the fact that so many participated is proof that it had potential. However, Pepsi is already a household name. It would have been great if Pepsi either stayed true to their branding, or changed their branding completely to be aligned with a successful campaign.

Let’s take Dove, and their Real Beauty Campaign as an example. They launched this back in 2004. This had no contests or prizes, but instead, was a series of online and offline content that focused on celebrating the natural physical variations that women had. Just one month after its release, Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” garnered more than 114 million total views, making it the most viral ad video back in 2013.

Why was it so successful? It:

  • Elicited strong emotion. It made women sad about how they lacked confidence, but then, happy when they realized that the world sees them as beautiful.
  • Was Relatable. They saw themselves in those ads.
  • Was Shareable. Women wanted to share it with their friends, mothers, daughers etc. to let them know how lovely they were beautiful.
  • Was Authentic. It was real to the brand.

It was so successful, Dove is still known for, and is still running the Real Beauty Campaign. Pepsi should have ran a campaign that was loyal to their brand, and that way, also encouraged loyalty FOR their brand.

We can all learn from insanely successful marketing campaigns, but we can also learn from those that didn’t quite achieve what they were gunning for. Everything is a learning opportunity, especially in marketing.

What social media campaigns do you love? Share it with us in the comments below!

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