One of the biggest sponsorship deals in the world this year took place last week when Pepsi announced a $50m global endorsement deal with pop superstar Beyoncé.
As part of the deal, Beyoncé will appear in a number of ads, including one following her hotly anticipated halftime show at the Super Bowl in February. Beyoncé’s image will also appear on a limited-edition run of Pepsi cans, the first time since Michael Jackson’s image adorned packs in 1984.
Pepsi will also contribute a multi-million dollar Creative Development Fund for the co-creation of relevant consumer content, though any idea as to what this entails as of yet is unclear, and from some quotes it appears this “might well have no explicit connection to Pepsi products.”
Beyoncé is naturally upbeat. Well, she would be wouldn’t she? She claims the deal “allows me to work with a lifestyle brand with no compromise and without sacrificing my creativity.” Quite a bold statement from an artist whose previous work with Pepsi included dressing up as a Roman Gladiator, singing “We Will Rock You” alongside Pink and Britney Spears, to Emperor Iglesias.
Pepsi are similarly buoyant, with their President saying the partnership is “great for music fans”. He adds “The global relationship gives Beyoncé multiple outlets to tap into in order to express her creativity, and will attract new consumers to both brands with great new experiences and content.” I wasn’t aware Beyoncé was particularly struggling to find outlets to express her creativity or attract new consumers, but clearly Pepsi feel that’s what they can offer her.
The problem, however, is that once you get past the sound-bites and platitudes, under scrutiny the deal doesn’t seem to make sense for Pepsi for two main reasons.
It’s an outdated approach
Pepsi are essentially buying Beyoncé’s vast fan base and distribution network. Nothing new in the music game, and no different to what they’ve historically done. The problem is the world has moved on since 1984. Viewing consumers as a homogenous mass market, believing they will drink more Pepsi as a result of their worship of a global music icon is answering a new challenge with an old solution.
The increasingly fragmented communications landscape we now inhabit means marketers need to meet the demand for greater personalisation of brand messages, through increasingly creative and radical solutions. With the advances in technology witnessed over the last decade alone, this opportunity exists like at no other time in history. Yet Pepsi have chosen the easy way out.
It’s easy to understand why, of course. Pepsi is a brand experiencing serious problems, in the US in particular, having given up second place in the Cola rankings to Diet Coke.
Pepsi Refresh was an honest attempt to do something bold and different that capitalised on a world that is becoming increasingly social, both in terms of media consumption and consumers’ expectations of brands to be more socially responsible – The Social Era, as we call it at Synergy.
The mistake Pepsi made, however, was to gamble too much of the house on the campaign, reducing commitments in other areas, such as Super Bowl advertising – so much so that it significantly affected the bottom line in a tough economic climate.
The standard response to failure is to return to what you know best. It’s worked before, why won’t it work again? Great businesses, however, respond to big challenges by taking risks and revolutionising their approach, not returning to the comfort zone of ‘tried and tested’.
It’s not authentically connected to a strong brand proposition
The Pepsi brand has been through a host of changes over the course of the last decade, so much so that it’s hard to understand what the flagship brand even stands for anymore. When compared with the refreshing and culturally impactful “Choice of a New Generation”, Pepsi feels like it’s struggling to find a unique voice in the rapidly changing modern world.
Pepsi’s current brand positioning is ‘Live for Now’. How spending $50million on a popstar who was been on Pepsi’s roster for almost a decade reflects that position, however, is beyond me. This isn’t to say Beyoncé isn’t culturally relevant and she is very much of the now; what’s missing is how that makes Pepsi culturally relevant.
It’s hard to understand what Pepsi’s authentic role is within music through this deal, beyond cold hard cash to make up for diminishing record label promotional budgets. Pepsi execs claim “Consumers are seeking a much greater authenticity in marketing from the brands they love.” I fully agree, and the most important consideration in identifying and activating any sponsorship should always be to establish an authentic role for your brand. However, actions speak louder than words and simply stating the relationship is all about authenticity, creativity and collaboration will instantly fall flat should Pepsi not be able to live up to those promises.
It was all so much easier in 1984.
By Paul Whitehead on December 17th, 2012