Pepsi and M&M’s Launch Web Polls

Consumer foods giants Pepsi-Cola and Mars, Inc. are looking to foster greater interaction with consumers through high-profile campaigns centering around online voting.

Purchase, N.Y.-based Pepsi, a unit of PepsiCo, has teamed up once more with Yahoo and pop princess-turned-pitchwoman Britney Spears, in an effort tied into Sunday’s Super Bowl.

The beverage maker purchased space for a 30-second commercial during the second quarter of Super Bowl XXXVI. What airs during that time is up to Web surfers, since Pepsi is encouraging consumers to visit pepsi.yahoo.com and vote for their favorite ad.

The three spots under consideration borrow elements from a 90-second Pepsi commercial that will air earlier in the game, during its first quarter. All four ads in the campaign, “Now and Them,” feature Spears appearing in mock Pepsi spots from the 1950s, 1960s, 70s, 80s and the present day. The ads also showcase a new “Joy of Pepsi” song, sung by Spears.

At the same time that the 90-second “Now and Then” ad runs during the game, the commercial also will be shown on the Yahoo home page, marking the first time that Yahoo has placed a streaming video commercial on what’s arguably one of the most valuable spots of real estate on the Internet.

The campaign continues Pepsi’s collaboration with Yahoo and Spears. A year ago, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based portal hosted a poll for consumers’ favorite Pepsi Super Bowl spot from years past. The winning commercial ran during the Super Bowl post-game show. In March, Yahoo showcased a new TV commercial starring Spears in advance of the spot’s airing during the Academy Awards.

Similar democratically-themed efforts are afoot at Hackettstown, N.J.-based Masterfoods USA, the Mars subsidiary that produces M&M’s. The candy manufacturer will use the official M&M’s site to offer consumers an opportunity to vote on whether the next color introduced should be pink, purple or aqua.

The campaign, called the “Global Color Vote,” is the largest promotion in the 61-year history of the “M&M’s” brand, and its first worldwide marketing effort. Coordinated on- and offline advertising, public relations, direct and retail efforts will run in 78 countries, aiming to drive traffic to www.mms.com. The site itself will be available in more than 15 languages, Masterfoods said.

The winning color will be announced in June, and will begin appearing in M&M’s bags in August.

“The M&M’s brand is the largest candy brand in the world and it speaks to the global power of the brand to be able to execute a program across 78 countries,” said Masterfoods USA president Paul Michaels. “Although the foundation of the M&M’s Brand is in the United States, the brand is a global icon and represents colorful, chocolate fun to consumers throughout the world.”

In addition to building buzz around the brand, Masterfoods is also aiming to see some immediate sales as a result of the campaign. The thinking is that consumers — perhaps looking to inform themselves about the candidates prior to voting — will purchase specially-marked M&M’s packages containing the new candy colors.

While the campaign is M&M’s largest promotion to date, it’s not the first mass vote in the brand’s history. In 1995, Mars ran a promotion inviting Americans to vote for a color to replace its tan candy. About half of the 10 million votes cast were for blue, the winner.

Spending was not disclosed on either the Pepsi or M&M’s effort.

As the news suggests, Web voting has become widely employed by a variety of consumer brands. For instance, Levi Strauss & Co. also plans to let Web users vote on their favorite commercial, which will air during the Super Bowl.

In part, the trend is due to falling rate card prices, which makes it easier for marketers to fund the wide online media buys necessary to effectively promote such campaigns. Additionally, the increase in Web polls’ use could point to growing confidence in the online medium for interacting inexpensively with masses of consumers.

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