As we approach the most anticipated day of the year for brand managers, Super Bowl Sunday, I thought it appropriate to comment on one of the biggest pieces of news coming out the branding and marketing circles in recent weeks: in a bold move, Pepsi – historically one of the largest spenders of Super Bowl advertising dollars – has discontinued its investment in commercial advertising during what could arguably be the most-watched television event ever.
However, I am not as interested in this decision as I am in how Pepsi will be reallocating its advertising budget, and how this might signal the early signs of even the largest and most traditional companies dabbling in (and even embracing) open source models of business.
Via the recently announced Pepsi Refresh Project (www.refresheverything.com), Pepsi will be investing in a large scale crowdsourcing and cause marketing initiative that will award $20 million in grants for community improvement projects. From the website:
“We're looking for people, businesses, and non-profits with ideas that will have a positive impact. Look around your community and think about how you want to change it.”
Anyone can submit an idea. Anyone can vote on their favorites. Each month, Pepsi will award up to 30 grants ranging in size from $5K to $250K to those ideas voted for most by the site's visitors.
Admittedly, this is not a completely original idea. A host of companies, from Target and P&G to Chase Bank and Starbucks , have launched similar crowdsourcing initiatives. Mountain Dew, another PepsiCo brand, recently launched its DEWmocracy “collective intelligence" project to develop its new projects, and Vitaminwater (owned by the Coca-Cola Company) released a Flavorcreator app on Facebook to crowdsource ideas for new flavors.
To many, it's not even a particularly good idea, and these companies have a lot to learn about truly opening up their processes. Crowdsourcing projects are pretty trendy right now, and an online voting contest can hardly be classified as an open source effort. You don't have to look too far to find reactions against crowdsourcing, at least in the way that many marketing organizations are utilizing the tactic today, and I am certainly not writing this post in advocation of crowdsourcing as a model of open source development.
(In fact, the long-term effects of crowdsourcing on the health of and affinity for a brand is a concern to be explored in whole other post ... but here's a great take on it to get started).
What I do think is noteworthy is that a major consumer goods company with highly valuable brand assets on the line is forfeiting the most traditional of advertising models in favor of a decidedly riskier strategy, placing the fate of its brands if not completely in the hands of its users, at least closer to it than ever before. I (optimistically) choose to believe that it represents some early shifts in long-held beliefs and practices in that industry, signaling that even the oldest dogs are willing to learn some new tricks.
What do you think consumer brands can learn and apply from the open development model within the technology industry? How are their current efforts flawed? And do you believe that these early initiatives represent an evolution within consumer branding towards a more open, collaborative model?
Oh, and who are you pulling for in the Super Bowl?