Why Pepsi Will Refresh Nothing

Have you been following the Pepsi Refresh Project?  It’s the latest in a line of cause marketing strategies in which Pepsi is planning to pay out $20 million in grants of $5,000, $25,000, $50,000, and $250,000.  Submit your idea online and then watch the vote totals go up.  If your idea is a popular choice with online voters, you are in luck!

From a marketing standpoint?  Brilliant.  In fact, this strategy was so brilliant they decided for the first time in 23 years to bypass airing a  Super Bowl ad and, instead, focused on “refreshing everything.” Of course, the fact that the didn’t have a Super Bowl ad also was news so the approach proved extra brilliant.  PepsiCo is getting huge kudos for “listening to the people,” and impacting multiple organizations with their giving through this program.

But how does this strategy look when viewed through a philanthropic lens?  Pretty unhelpful.  How much “refreshing” really can occur with a $5,000, or even a $250,000 gift?  Not much.  Contrast Pepsi’s marketing approach with the way that The Gates Foundation is making giving decisions.  While The Gates Foundation makes a large number of smaller grants each year, they also are interested in solving big, global problems – primarily health, poverty, and education –  and they are willing to invest heavily in these areas to make a lasting and posting impact.  They have a vision of a world they wish to shape and they are seeking to fund programs which support that vision.

Yes, Pepsi is giving away $20 million through this program.  But, we should not forget that, at its core, this is a marketing exercise for the company.  It’s about selling more Pepsi product, not refreshing anything.  If it really were about refreshing something, Pepsi would describe the world they wish to leave for the next generation and they would provide significant funding toward that vision.  If they focused their considerable resources on helping to solve big problems they would do well by the world and they would leave the responsibilities to fund the “replacement of our school’s greenhouse roof” (yes, this really was one of the leaders on the Pepsi site tonight) to the people of that community.

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