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PepsiCo elicits cheap giggles without staying power

Super Bowl spots have always served a purpose in terms of new companies launching with clever taglines or existing brands repositioning themselves. In many ways, Super Bowl advertising, while arguably the most indirect form of marketing possible, is a time for the beginning of big new ideas. I say beginning, because the brands that hope to actually get any sustained success from these new ideas know they need to continue the idea beyond a single broadcast spot in the Super Bowl or elsewhere.

Consider PepsiCo. Last year, it generated headlines when it chose to remove its beverages from the Super Bowl advertising lineup. Instead, it launched the Pepsi Refresh project, which by all accounts rekindled awareness and interest in the brand, athough sales were actually down last year during the campaign’s first year. For the brand to grow and thrive, Pepsi Refresh must be the beginning of an ongoing commitment to nontraditional work and not a one-year hiatus from more conservative methods. This year, PepsiCo advertised both Pepsi Max and Doritos at the Super Bowl. 

To me, a brand’s Super Bowl performance depends less on the subjective, “Did I like the ad,” and more on the question of whether or not they used the big stage to present the beginning of a big idea. It is the start of a story I want to see the middle and end of. Of course, I understand that larger brands’ strategy might simply be: “Well, we’ve just got to be there. Awareness is nine-tenths of the law.” But, I found the Pepsi Max and Doritos spots to be really wasted opportunities.

In Pepsi Max’s case, for instance, I don’t see how spending $3 million to show low-fi footage of a dork shooting Pepsi Max at a bully’s crotch, plus another $3 million to conjure tired old marital stereotypes “ads up” to something memorable and potentially sustainable. What’s the idea that can excite me about that brand now and into later?

Some of the Doritos’ work might have mustered a chuckle. The cheese just smells so good! Oh, it’s Super Pug! Yet, I don’t see how these spots will manage to maintain more than that moment for the brand. Is it about the cheese? The crunch? The magic mix of spices? PepsiCo needs these Doritos’ ads to be about something, but it can’t be just “funny,” because funny’s not ownable. Nor can it just make it about “user-generated” any longer, because that’s a cop out masquerading as consumer empowerment.

Next time, let the agency do their job. They’re professionals. In fact, make them do their job, which is to say, challenge them to come up with an idea that has a TV component worthy of the Super Bowl and extends to truly engage ‘real people’ beyond Sunday.

Josh Rogers is executive creative director at Imagination.

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