Unbound Edition. Meaningful conversations about brand, from Davis Brand Capital.

Refreshing “Refreshing”

Pepsi is exhibiting some fresh bruises after recent media coverage of the company’s brain drain under Massimo d’Amore. When one considers Arnell’s leaked logo study and the lashing from the trades (and 20% freefall) over Tropicana’s repackaging, it’s hard to argue freshening up its brands netted PepsiCo any positives. Yet despite a flood of negative attention (much of it deserved), the most interesting aspects of the work have received the least attention. I may take my own lumps for this one, but I think the Pepsi brand has made some smart choices in its updated approach to communicating “refreshing.”

Here is why:

1. Pepsi resets the visual and linguistic lexicon of “refreshing”

Unlike Coors more functional approach to demonstrating “refreshing,” Pepsi takes a subtler, yet emotionally charged approach to communicating both the brand’s reinvention and its core product attribute — the euphoric jolt, courtesy of the sugar content.  The brand does so by taking cues from pop culture greats Warhol and Lichtenstein, borrowing the joyful colors from the former while updating the everyday vernacular once masterfully leveraged by the latter.

By combining pop culture of yesterday and today, it not only resets the visual and linguistic vocabulary around refreshing, it also bridges the generational differences inherent in its consumer base.  At the same time, the brand makes no excuses for its concoction; rather it celebrates the artificial nature of it with the equally artificial feel of the colors.

2. Pepsi Embraces Optimism, Borrowing from the Political as Well as the Competitive Set

While much has been said and written about Pepsi leveraging the optimism inherent in Obama’s campaign messages of “change” and  “yes, we can,” I believe the brand taps more than one source.  On the surface, Pepsi shrewdly makes its logo part of the message, inferring it is the key ingredient in everyday, simple, happy moments. But it also borrows a page from Coke’s “we are the world” playbook, as the logo can be read as “planet Pepsi,” meaning the U.S. (brand) embraces the international community. Finally, it shares an optimistic outlook on life in a time of much pessimism.  In many ways, the brand hasn’t so much reinvented itself as it has come full circle (as the below image shows). 

It reminds consumers of seemingly simpler times while also insinuating that the company itself has been through hard times and, in good American fashion, has prevailed…the ultimate demonstration of brand malleability.

3. Pepsi Lends Itself to Brand Co-option

Lastly, there aren’t many higher honors than being embraced by South Park’s wickedly smart, funny and inappropriate creative team, which is exactly what happened to Pepsi.

“Refreshing Everything Ad by Pepsi”

“South Park Parodies Pepsi”

A dream-come-true or a hard-earned extension of Pepsi’s brand capital into cultural currency?  Either way, I find the campaign refreshing.


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