Buying and selling are a very interesting phenomena.
You would buy something if it appeals to you. Sure, there are those of you, who are die-hard research fans, reading reviews after reviews, comparing prices, analysing ratings, before deciding on the product to buy. But come on! Who goes reading ratings when asked for a soft drink choice! Chances are, when you ask for a soft drink, you will address the beverage of your choice by its name. That might be because you are a sucker for its taste. But then, there is this huge possibility that your favourite soft drink brand became your favourite because you were influenced by the brand marketers via advertisements.
This is a story of this very power of advertising and marketing that rose an almost buried brand from the ground and made it reach for the skies. This is the story of Pepsi and how it re-transformed the cola market, snatching the reins from Coke, establishing balance in the cola universe, once again.
How this tale begins
Go back to the eighties. Or the nineties. Simpler times, right!
About three decades back, the choice for a carbonated soft drink was limited. And when you read limited, take it in the literal sense. There were, in the US and UK markets, just two names that were considered as options to hydrate a certain taste craving thirst- Coke and Pepsi. They ruled the cola empire. And they kept on improving themselves to appeal more to their buyers.
It was in 1993, during the time of constant improvements, that Pepsi came out with Pepsi Max- a sugar-free beverage with the taste of cola undisturbed.
This new product from Pepsi targeted the cooler, hipper and health slash shape conscious youngsters with a slight dislike towards the calories that the cola drinks brought along. Nobody likes a flabby tummy, no doubt there.
Pepsi Max was supposed to be a diet drink that did not compromise taste and yet, ensured the no sugar benefits.
The campaign to celebrate and thus market Pepsi Max was originally formulated in the US and was run in UK as well. The drink became the hype. Pepsi advertisements with celebrities flaunting their beautiful shapes, standing in front of a breath-taking sunset, or a glittering wall, with their fingers wrapped around a can of Pepsi MAX made a major part of the audience believe in the possibilities of goodness without evil, taste without health compromises.
But the run was disrupted in 2011.
Pepsi wasn't the only other strong competitor with resolve moving stories in the market anymore. New soft drink brands emerged and brought with them, a new set of standards. Their brand stories were more convincing. Their taste was like a breath of fresh air. The market was looking at several new arrivals and the consumers were happy to get multiple options. The happier they got, the more distracted they became from Pepsi, and its miraculous diet cola.
Adding to its misery, the Pepsi Max advertisements failed at their sole aim- to garner customers. The once happening and charming promotional hacks went down the gutter and took their business with them. The target consumer stretch of the diet cola was no longer getting a clear picture of the scenario. Pepsi failed miserably at making people understand why they should be drinking Pepsi Max. Getting through to just five percent of the huge audience band was in no way helping the brand or the sales. As a result, whatever business the cola market had left, went with Coke and Pepsi saw a downfall.
So Pepsi went out of the box
With everything spiralling down to the ground, Pepsi was left with very few choices. It went with the idea to rediscover its marketing strategy.
There wasn't much in terms of goals that Pepsi needed to think upon, this much was clear. The major and immediate mission was to get its place back in the market, make Coke scoot and regain the space Pepsi had lost. The most obvious process was nothing more than a small to do list.
To communicate meticulously.
To get the message through to the target audience.
To drive them to engage.
To cause a spike in sales.
And adopted a completely fresh strategy
Television is how most brands promote themselves. Earlier, it was radio that lay at the core of advertisements. That changed as television came into the picture, putting visuals in the heads of the consumers of how their lives would change with a certain product, leaving less scope for further imagination.
However, using television adverts as the mode to pick the brand up wasn't very much appreciated by the media behaviour analysts. And going by the same old means meant nothing more than a deadlock.
This is when the idea popped in one of those brilliant heads- When radio replaced word of the hand advertisements and television replaced radios, with a difference of one decade, there had to have been something that could replace the television.
This is when Pepsi zeroed in on YouTube and decided to go one on one with its target market. Online videos had a knack to grasp attention quickly and this was supported by the figure that stated how people spent just about double the time on online videos than they did on their TVs. Also, no other brand had organized a solely YouTube channel based campaign to promote their product until the time and succeeded with flying colours. Moreover, the target consumer demographic of Pepsi Max that spanned from eighteen to thirty four year olds fit the bill of YouTube audiences just perfectly.
The Pepsi Breakthrough
A cola drink, a carbonated beverage that has no sugar, minimal calories and yet, boasts an uninterrupted signature cola taste!
Too good to be true? Everybody thought the same.
You can relate, right! This is like saying, 'our butter won't turn you into a hippo' or like saying 'this really cheap gadget will never disappoint you and last for forever'. It just doesn't happen this way.
Pepsi understood the very problem too. They realized that the problem, the major one among all others, was that people didn't believe the claim of a diet cola anymore. It was like a fake wolf check. It was hard to consider as reliable.
Speed dating came to the rescue
Pepsi did a bit of research and came to the conclusion that turning the face of the brand with so many problems looming overhead was a Superman calibre job. And Superman wasn't available.
So they took the help of a few friendship pairs and organised a research meeting resembling the likeness of speed dating. Friendship pairs were created and were seated down to talk. The discussion was supposed to be casual, refreshing and was arranged so that the discussion, the sharing could lead to the big reveal- what this generation wanted, craved and appreciated.
The results were eye-opening. The demands were different from what the previous batch of consumers would have placed. This made Pepsi realize that they needed novelty, that their campaigns needed the touch of adventure, of excitement, of experiences that would lead to a memory. Social involvement and individual delight, both were expected by the consumers to be a part of any campaign, tickling their funny bones while leaving them mesmerized.
These tips helped shape the set of qualities that later defined the standards on which the campaign and the content were directed and created.
Making people believe was the obvious next step for Pepsi
The core situation was that people weren't buying the diet cola concept. The most obvious solution was to make them believe that what they considered impossible and brushed off as a hoax and a lie, could indeed be true and very much attainable.
The magic trick
June 2013. London. A red double-decker bus stood on the road while a man levitated to its height and then began floating in the air, all the while smiling and posing for pictures.
The man was the famous magician and TV star, Dynamo. The trick was arranged in collaboration with Pepsi Max to deliver one simple message- It is possible.
In 2014, Pepsi Max created its official YouTube channel- 'Unbelievable'.
The model of 'hero, hub, hygiene' was adopted by Pepsi to make this channel reach hearts and jump start them with a whole new level of adventure and excitement.
'Hero' was about challenging one's own self to new levels. The first ever hero video was shot with stuntman Damien Walters attempting the first ever human loop the loop. The video ended with Pepsi Max flaunting its tagline- 'Maximum Taste. No Sugar. Unbelievable'.
'Hub' was all about reaching out to the YouTube creators, vloggers, video artists and the audiences. Collaborations and open discussions gave Pepsi the trapdoor it was looking for, to get into the vision of the target consumer and keep appearing there frequently. Digital outdoors, posters and bus sides were used as tools of display.
'Genius' was the initiative to create films that celebrated moments that a person found worth their memories. The summer festival friend finder drone film and the Wembley stunt are examples of this kind of content spinning. With twelve million views and four million views respectively, these films clearly made their points undisputable.
And then, Pepsi reaped the sweet, juicy fruits of its hard labour
In 2015, Pepsi enjoyed an increased share of +3.8% in the cola market, +2.4% of which was a result of Pepsi Max. Coke, on the other hand, suffered a downfall of 3.5%.
The user demographic of Pepsi changed as well. No longer was the 18-34 group the only one under spotlight. Every age group developed a taste for Pepsi Max, contributing to a sales growth of £ 25 million in 2015.
Pepsi Max ensured an improvement along all the equity measures as well. Also, the campaign resulted in Pepsi having a strong follower base with earnest and largely numbered engagements. With a stat of five million vies per video and 1.1 million subscribers, Pepsi Max had become the most watched channel in UK.
So the ending was happy indeed
Pepsi took a big risk. If you are a small brand, rethinking and redesigning your entire campaign, trying to be more flexible, it suits. It might even have a greater chance at working. But when you are Pepsi, taking entrepreneurial risks of this calibre can change things. Both, the glory of the success and the wounds of the fall become reasonably probable outcomes. With a brand like Pepsi, the risk was too big. The loss, has the campaign ended up face down in the mud, would have been massive.
And yet, Pepsi dared to venture where nobody else was. And on its way to doing something new, it changed lives and made people smile, all the while keeping its business in a pretty neat state.
That sounds like a win-win.