The most powerful source of brand value is customers’ experience of a company’s offerings — products or services. But the second most potent, in my assessment, is company actions. Pepsi has launched a terrific effort called the Pepsi Refresh Project.
They’ve taken around $20M of advertising funds (that might have been spent on Superbowl ads or The Who halftime show), and committed it to positive impact projects. The novelty is that the projects are conceived of by anyone, and voted on by anyone (this is not entirely original, but it is novel to a large audience).
People submit ideas in six categories of goodness, and in four financial categories based on the amount requested, up to $250,000. Then people vote (project submitters cannot vote) to award $1.3M, spread across 32 projects. This will happen every month for a year.
As corporate philanthropy projects go, this is my ideal. It aligns to several powerful values or norms, especially among younger wired audiences (Pepsi’s target, probably): transparency, online social connection, self determination, crowdsourcing, environmental concern, social justice, mistrust of big corporations. Instead of announcing what Pepsico is going to give money to, Pepsi says “We want to do something good. You decide what to do with our money.” If they stick to their pledge of true democratic process, they will win a lot of brand affinity with people who seek positive change.
This is not easy for a big company to decide to do. Senior execs no doubt sat in a few hand-wringing sessions imagining how fraud could occur, funds could be mistakenly routed to terrorists, competition could find and expose a flaw, etc. I’ve been in that exact meeting. Big brands take a big risk when they invite the masses to allocate their assets. And that is part of why I like this. Pepsi is courageous, and thus will differentiate, while many other brands play it safe.
I’ve seen no advertising, online or otherwise, for this project. Perhaps I’ve just missed it, but I think they are hoping for word-of-mouth endorsement, online and off. This blog post, for instance. Keeping it organic will help it stay authentic, and that is the whole key to it working.
My only concern is relevancy. What is the connection to Pepsi? Pepsi takes this head on in their video explaining how the program works: “Can a soda really make the world a better place?” Answer: “With your help, we think so.”