We live in a world where anyone can hijack a brand and put it on the Internet with their own views, positive or negative (image by Brent Nelson). Brand control no longer exists, in large part because of widespread fragmentation of traditional and citizen-created media. The resulting brand distortion creates a situation where communicators attempt to paint the abstract.
The abstract takes pieces and puts them together to create a larger picture. Sometimes the pieces are clear, other times they are not. In the case of fragmented branding, some pieces are issued by corporate, others are the expressions of stakeholders, positive and negative.
There’s no greater example than the current Pepsi Refresh campaign. A brief recap of the initial Buzz Bin post: Pepsi has opted out of the Super Bowl in favor of a $20+ million integrated campaign that features crowdsourced charitable giving, a contest form of corporate social responsibility.
Ironically, given the quality of this year’s ads, this may have been an incredibly brilliant coup. Both Richard Laermer and I dubbed the campaign an instant success on our podcast, simply because of the many conversations it has created. See Richard’s breakdown above in this video.
The conversations aren’t all positive. In fact, the nonprofit community has doubts and questions, many of which are legitimate concerns about the viability of the contests and the sustainability of the program choices. Pepsi acknowledges these criticisms and has engaged in dialogue. I like that they aren’t running, in spite of valid criticism.
And why should they? In spite of cause-based and marketing critiques, to the common American this is a huge investment in society and a big statement. The abstract brand picture, even with the smudges, is a pretty strong one for Pepsi. In fact, without the criticism one could argue that the conversation would be less believable and loud. Brand fragmentation in the form of generosity and community contribution works.
It should be noted that Pepsi did not just launch a social media campaign. The Super Bowl ads are missing, but the company has not left the abstract painting strictly in the hands of folk artists. There’s been serious PR as evidenced by stories like the CNN piece appearing in every major media outlet, as well as substantial advertising to notify citizens of Pepsi’s Refresh America attempts.
Welcome to the fragmented brand marketing of the 21st century: A combination of mass campaigns featuring traditional advertising and PR mixed with corporate social responsibility efforts as well as authentic social media that enables both good and bad conversations. There’s no call to action beyond doing good, because Pepsi simply wants to refresh its brand. And in this case, it’s a win. I guarantee you that people — as in the people who walk into Safeway with a grocery list — will think about Pepsi again, and in a new light. Fragmented branding measures the composite view — not the individual wins or Monday morning quarterback complaints — to determine success.
Three Additional Musings for Those About to Experiment
1) Pepsi is relatively early in the crowdsourced social philanthropy game, but not the first. What was notable in this project was the size of the purse, as well as the opt out of the Super Bowl. Copy cat marketing efforts are sure to arise, and less successfully so. Less money + me, too copycat = a yawn.
2) Corporate social philanthropy needs to be authentic to the core of the company. Customer-centric efforts with crowdsourcing efforts are cool, but ultimately represent a novelty especially for niche brands that are not serving mass markets. They will be better served building programs around the corporate culture or strategy. For example, if one is a software company, one might focus on digital freedom, transparency, developing programming jobs in the U.S., as well as technical education in high schools and universities.
3) Contest fatigue is setting in. And criticism of cause-based contests is also on the rise. Make sure this is the right tactic as opposed to engaging your community in a different, more sustainable way.