Just before the holiday, Pepsi dropped a bombshell: they are cutting their Superbowl ads, instead spending $20 million on something called the Pepsi Refresh Project, a “social media” campaign that will hand out tens of millions of dollars to people who want to “refresh” their communities via good works.
Of course, the social media universe was all a-Twitter about Pepsi shifting their money from mass to conversation-based media (Pepsi spends $20 million on social media!) but we need to not overstate this – from where SMG sits (working with some of the biggest companies in the world on major social media programs), it would be nearly impossible to spend $20 million on social media alone; in fact, the $20 million figure in this case refers to the grant funding available, not just the cost of execution. The largest initiatives that we’ve seen – year-long campaigns involving hundreds of people, programs and tech, have cost less than half that (hard costs included). It’s great PR for Pepsi (and guaranteed to make Coke nervous), but Pepsi is not spending $20 million on social media – they’re simply shifting from traditional to non-traditional, and my money is that it will be a fully integrated campaign involving both paid and earned media, digital and otherwise.
So, now that we have that out of the way – let me tell you why I think it’s such a big damn deal. It’s not what Pepsi is doing it’s what they’re not doing: they’re not spending $20 million on television advertising during the Superbowl. This doesn’t just hit the bottom line for the networks that share the revenue (now busily making noises that Pepsi has left the door open for Coke) but it also creates tension between Pepsi and their rivals. Pepsi is aggressively innovating, and whether Coke jumps into the breach and grabs the now-available Superbowl inventory or not, Pepsi has a leg up on experimentation with a new model for integrating paid and earned media. This is not something that the competition can ignore – and it could very well lead to a dramatic cascade in 2010; away from traditional media to experimental combinations of paid and earned.
So, if I have to make a prediction for 2010? It will be that this is the year in which we see the manifestation of significant and precipitous erosion in advertiser confidence in the effectiveness and necessity of mass media. And lots and lots of experimentation.