Top 10 Innovative Brands 2014: #5 Pepsi

The beverage brand has boosted its reach by building activations at influential events and creating social media promotions for live experiences.

By Jenny Berg June 17, 2014, 7:05 AM EDT

Data from wristbands at Pepsi’s SXSW party let organizers adjust the environment in real time.

Photo: Natalie Cass/Getty Images for Lightwave

In the beverage industry, there’s no bigger rivalry than the one between Pepsi and Coca-Cola, and the two companies certainly compete for the attention in event marketing as much as they do in advertising and other channels. In the past year, Pepsi has pushed harder with its ­experiential efforts, looking to out-innovate its competitor by offering unique consumer experiences at some of the biggest events around the country.

The initiatives included the “Bio-Reactive Concert” at SXSW in March. Held inside a plastic igloo, the concert launched Lightwave, a piece of wearable technology that measured guests’ body temperatures, movements, and excitement. The information showed up on the DJ’s iPad, and DJ A-Trak was able to adapt his performance to fit with the crowd’s general mood. Servers circulating with drinks also used the data to enhance the event experience. When energy levels were high, for example, they served Pepsi drinks made with lit ice cubes.

Even more notable was this year’s activations at Super Bowl events held in New York and New Jersey. As presenting sponsor of the halftime show, Pepsi staged a monthlong campaign to hype the spectacle. One stunt took place in the tiny Nebraska town of Milligan, where planners placed free Pepsi vending machines in unexpected places—including cornfields. In the machines, cans were printed with invitations to a mysterious “Get Hyped for Halftime” pep rally. The January 4 function drew some 2,000 guests from surrounding areas. It included the biggest fireworks display the town had ever seen, a band marching in a Pepsi-bottle formation, and a performance by country singer Lee Brice. The week of the championship game, the company staged an even bigger promotion in New York: a three-day activation in a 10,000-square-foot dome dubbed PepCity that brought performances, N.F.L. players, food, art, and products from PepsiCo’s various brands—including Cheetos, Aquafina FlavorSplash,and Mountain Dew—under one roof.

Indeed, pairing its flagship drink with other beverage and snack brands in its portfolio gives Pepsi the advantage over Coca-Cola, especially as soda sales decline year over year—a trend analysts believe is caused by changing tastes and sustained health campaigns—and revenues and volume for snacks rise. In April, PepsiCo reported better-than-expected profit in the first quarter of 2014, its net income rising 13 percent from $1.08 billion in the same period last year to $1.22 billion.

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