Soda Pop/Culture

On the client side, two industries are making massive, innovative, and deadly serious commitments to the Web as a branding vehicle. The first is automotive. But if you’re into pure-play branding, keep your eye on that other vertical: soft drinks.

Coke, Pepsi, and their product lines do all branding, all the time. Not lead-gen, not information upon which to base high-consideration purchases. They don’t nudge buyers through a purchase funnel, nor personalize or customize their products.

They do branding.

So what are they doing, why are they doing it — and how the heck are they going to know if it’s working, anyway?

Let’s take a look. But first, let’s do the numbers.

Last year in the U.S., the category moved $66 billion (10.2 billion cases) of sweet, fizzy stuff. Coca-Cola lost market share, Pepsi gained, and diet drinks are what’s fueling category growth.

Is Pepsi winning because it’s digitizing so many ad dollars? PepsiCo is, after all, the fourth-biggest online advertiser, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Consider impressions by brand for the month of February:


U.S. Online Ad Impressions for
Select Beverage Brands, February 2005
Brand Impressions
(Home and Work)
Pepsi-Cola (PepsiCo Inc.) 92,764,000
Diet Pepsi (PepsiCo Inc.) 84,145,000
Mountain Dew (PepsiCo Inc.) 933,000
Sierra Mist (PepsiCo Inc.) 14,000
7UP (Cadbury Schweppes) 106,704,000
Dr Pepper (Cadbury Schweppes) 4,241,000
Sunkist (Cadbury Schweppes) 139,000
Sprite (The Coca-Cola Company) 3,242,000
Minute Maid (The Coca-Cola Company) 3,226,000
Coca-Cola (The Coca-Cola Company) 2,090,000
Source: Nielsen//NetRatings AdRelevance, 2005

Pepsi, Please

OK, so maybe Super Bowl campaigns and Apple iTunes promotions nudge sales along, too. But that’s not why Pepsi is making such an unprecedented commitment to online. Last week, the company announced it would launch its new diet Pepsi One sans TV. TBWA Worldwide’s Tequila division is cooking up interactive campaign elements targeting a 20-something male demographic that doesn’t watch much TV and won’t drink anything with “diet” on the label. A Oneify Web site is already live.

The thinking behind Oneify is all stuff you’ve heard a billion times before if you work anywhere near this industry: Engage the consumer. Don’t speak “marketing.” Be experiential, viral, clever, credible, and amusing. Pull, don’t push. Understand the lifestyle. (Please apply all the above to all other campaigns cited in this column.)

It will be interesting to see if online sweepstakes become part of Pepsi One’s strategy. I asked Hitwise‘s VP of research, Bill Tancer, about traffic patterns to some of the major soft drink sites. He delivered some jaw-dropping stats.

Pepsi’s Mountain Dew brand just relaunched the site, logo, the works — all online. It’s targeting the same young male (but being highly caloric, presumably more svelte) demo as Pepsi One. Traffic to mountaindew.com from ESPN sites spiked following the relaunch. That’s where ads are running, and that traffic was a nicely targeted 18-34-year-old male demographic.

But guess what demo constituted a whopping 60 percent of Mountain Dew’s traffic last week — to a landing page featuring testosterone-y dudes on sofas watching basketball? Hitwise clocks these visitors as low-income females… over 45. They clicked not on ads, but on a link in contest-aggregator site Sweepstakes Advantage.

“That’s what I found fascinating too,” said Tancer when we discussed Hitwise’s data. “The most predominant suppliers of clickstreams to the Mountain Dew site are sweepstakes aggregator sites, and their predominant demographic is older females. I’m going to assume they’re very smart marketing people. So they’re casting a wide net, and there’s a lot of stuff, and they’re going to have to throw a lot back.”

And, Tancer reminded me, when sweeps spike traffic, session time drops. That’s contrary to the goals of any soft drink sites or campaigns.

A Coke and a Smile

“We’re optimizing engagement rate” is how Scott Witt puts it. Witt oversees digital at Coca-Cola City, a Starcom MediaVest division. We were talking at the launch party for Sprite’s new brand campaign, The Scenario, concocted in close partnership with MSN’s Branded Entertainment and Experiences Team.

Coke’s last big project with MSN was the MSN home page takeover for the launch of C2. The high-profile campaign was hailed a success, even as drink sales went flat. In light of that, I asked, what are Sprite’s success metrics?

That’s how “optimizing the engagement rate” came up. “The prime metric is interaction and engagement, and how many seconds users engage with the PointRoll ads,” he explained — but that’s only phase one. Dynamic Logic and comScore have been commissioned to study the nine-month online effort. The next research wave will study on-/offline correlation. The company will also scrutinize what Witt calls, “‘Immediate consumption’ — how many smaller units move off the shelves in delis and convenience stores, as opposed to the larger bottles purchased by supermarket shoppers.”

The campaign is targeting (yup, you guessed it) a young audience: “multicultural youths” ages 12-24, not the drive-to-the-supermarket-in-the-SUV crowd who buy those 2-liter bottles.

Are the Sprite campaign and the much-ballyhooed Coke Zero launch reactive? Will Zero follow Pepsi One’s lead and eschew TV in favor of online? Is Coke following Pepsi’s online ad spend lead?

Coke certainly isn’t buying as many online ads as Pepsi does, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the company isn’t investing dollars in the medium. Geoff Cottrill, group director of entertainment marketing at Coca-Cola NA, reminded me the company is “doing a lot of very innovative things online that are beyond spending dollars on advertising. CokeMusic.com has over 7 million registered users.” They visit the site three times per week, spending an average 45 minutes with the brand, he claims.

The Sprite campaign, which is integrated with MSN Music, extends Coke’s philosophy of reaching kids through their music. The Scenario features spokesfigure Miles Thirst recommending music, playing clips, sharing top DJs’ play lists, integrating with IM, and, of course, selling the tunes. “If you think about what iTunes, Napster, and some of the other digital music sites have available, they’re standard transaction sites,” says Cottrill.

Cottrill wouldn’t breathe a word about the Coke Zero launch (TV, or not TV? That is the question). But he and Witt shared an interesting phase-three element of The Scenario. Sprite plans to introduce a sort of digital, Flash-based canvas called “The Wall.” Users will be invited to create billboards. Winning entries will become real billboards in Times Square and perhaps other locations. Witt calls it “out-of-home as destination advertising.”

It would be so cool if some teenager, somewhere in the flyover zone, could build the next Super Bowl spot on her bedroom PC.

Coke? Pepsi? We’re waiting.

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