Changing the style of an iconic brand like Pepsi is a high stakes game. But in the hands of executive Russell Weiner, who spearheaded the brand’s recent restyle, the risk has paid off, creating a refreshing new take on media strategy and an unprecedented approach to package design.
When Weiner became vice president of marketing, colas, at Pepsi-Cola North America (PCNA) in 2006, the brand restyle was one of his first challenges. Drawing on his eight years of experience at the company, plus insight gained working for an ad agency and brand management savvy acquired at Philip Morris, he led his team to a new view of packaging’s place in the marketing mix.
“One of the first things we did was to start treating packaging as media,” says Weiner, who oversees all marketing and advertising for the Pepsi-Cola brands.
The power of packaging as an ad medium had not been fully leveraged previously, he says. “Pepsi cans deliver the same number of impressions as a Super Bowl commercial, every week. We were leaving a large number of packaging impressions on the table. We realized we should be doing more with that asset.”
That realization led to the development of Pepsi’s multimedia Choreography campaign, which elevated packaging as the most visible component in Pepsi’s brand restyle.
The Choreography campaign featured frequent changes of graphics on Pepsi cans throughout 2007-a total of 35 designs. In contrast, within the preceding 108 years, Pepsi had changed its package graphics only 10 times. PCNA developed the Choreography initiative with the Arnell Group, which designed graphics for all but one of the 35 cans.
The can designs, though very different from one another, all reflected themes of interest to teens and young adults, such as music, sports, cars and fashion. Each design featured its own signature background graphics, but all used the Pepsi globe logo and name lettering.
Each design also incorporated an Internet address to encourage consumers to extend their brand experience. By providing web addresses on its cans, PCNA doubled its Internet traffic in 2007 and significantly boosted the amount of time consumers spent on its websites.
“The idea was to make the experience of our product last beyond the last sip. When you went to that web address, there was an experience borne out of the package,” Weiner explains. For example, the Internet address printed on Pepsi’s MTV-themed can provided exclusive content about the MTV Video Music Awards, which Pepsi sponsors.
That design, which leverages media from packaging to the Internet to television, illustrates the thinking behind Choreography: to create an environment in which Pepsi’s various media could dance gracefully together.
Some of the can designs also brought cause-related marketing into the mix. Working with City Year, Inc., a volunteer service organization for young adults, PCNA created a can that features the organization’s logo, includes City Year messages such as “Give a Year” and “Make a Difference,” shows City Year activities and provides the group’s Internet address.
One of the most popular Choreography websites last year was the Design Our Pepsi Can contest site, which was live for one month. PCNA encouraged consumers to use tools available on its site or their own design programs to create the graphics for a Pepsi can.
A panel at Pepsi chose the best designs and posted them on the site, where consumers voted for the winner. In addition to having his design featured on 500 million Pepsi cans, the winner took home a $10,000 prize.
Because of the nature of the contest, the amount of time consumers spent on the Design Our Pepsi Can site was “tremendous, about three and a half or four times greater than industry norms for time on-site,” Weiner recalls.
Consumers’ willingness to invest their time in designing graphics for the Pepsi can, essentially making the package a reflection of their own aesthetics, harmonizes with some key themes Weiner has identified in consumer goods packaging across categories.
“What has happened, given the proliferation of all consumer goods and the desire for customization and personalization, is that brands are really using packaging as a way to distinguish themselves from each other, when in many cases the products aren’t that much different,” Weiner says. “We’re evolving toward packaging as a fashion statement, packaging as an accessory, packaging as more than a vessel.”
The Design Our Pepsi Can contest’s popularity stimulated some new ideas for Weiner and his team when it came time to plan the 2008 campaign, dubbed Choreography 2.0. “This year, every single package of Pepsi-and starting in June, Diet Pepsi-will be designed by a consumer,” Weiner says. “It’s all about giving our consumers the chance to interact with our brand.”
With the Pepsi brand restyle now well underway, Weiner is looking to the future of the brand and its packaging with an eye to sustainability: “We’re trying to take things beyond consumption. One thing we’re doing on our packaging this year is encouraging consumers to recycle. There’s a line on every one of our cans that asks, ‘Have we met before?’ and we also provide a fact to show how useful recycling can be.”
The facts include statements such as: ‘Recycling could save 95% of the energy used to make this can’ and ‘Recycle this can and save enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.’
Looking back over the past two years, Weiner says, “The inspiration for our packaging initiatives came out of a desire first to treat our package as media and to leverage it a bit more, and secondarily to give our consumers an experience of Pepsi beyond the wonderful taste of our product.”
“Third is to start giving the brand back to consumers, so they can express themselves,” he adds. “Even beyond that, we’re encouraging them to recycle and hopefully get that can back again.” BP
Name: Russell Weiner
Title: Vice president of marketing, colas, for Pepsi-Cola North America
Years in current position: Two-plus years, and at Pepsi since 1998
Ultimate branded package: “I consider cars the ultimate package. They package the individual. A Porsche 911 would be my perfect package … It does what every package should do. It makes what is inside look enviable.”What’s on your nightstand: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, TIME magazine and a car magazine