Cause Marketing and Pepsi Refresh

December 18th, 2012

Many studies show the value of cause marketing. Aligning a brand with a cause that is valuable to the brand audience can be an important step for brand affinity. The Pepsi Refresh Project took this idea one step further and let people in social media decide the causes Pepsi would support. Various organizations could apply to be featured through the project and then advocate for their support network to go and vote for Pepsi to financially support their project. To fund this idea, Pepsi redirected Super Bowl marketing dollars. The idea was very exciting.

Execution is where many criticized the idea. Non-profit organizations were sometimes discouraged from what they considered an arduous application process that did not guarantee success in the medium. Then, advocating for votes could be a drain on already limited non-profit resources. In addition, social media users often found the website difficult to navigate to find their favorite causes and vote.

Most discouragingly, Pepsi found their market share diminish. An honest effort to take cause marketing to the customer did not provide the market share gains hoped for. Earlier this year Pepsi let the project disappear. Years of effort on the part of Pepsi, non-profit organizations, and social media users is now closed. Some non-profit organizations did gain from the experience and are thankful for the opportunity.

What can we learn from the lofty experiment?

  • Cause marketing needs to clearly link back to the brand mission. With so many causes to support, Pepsi customers found it harder to connect the brand to the financial support being provided.
  • Social media is exciting, but requires focus. Fans of the Pepsi Refresh Project longed for streamlined opportunities to engage and many, instead, stopped engaging.
  • People want to engage and many voted in the Pepsi Refresh Project, but they want engagement to be easy. Too many steps and people become less interested. This is true for digital engagement opportunities in general.
  • Cause marketing needs to encourage brand building. No matter how many people loved the Pepsi Refresh Project, myself included, ultimately the brand suffered from this experiment. It did not encourage more people to drink Pepsi.