Almost two months ago, PepsiCo surprised the advertising industry by announcing that it will not pitch its drinks on this year’s Super Bowl broadcast. Ending a 23-year streak, there will be no Gatorade, Pepsi or Mountain Dew commercials.
Questions started immediately. With PepsiCo only advertising Doritos, Coca-Cola Co. would grab the lion’s share of pre-game buzz about its drink commercials...right?
Uh, not exactly.
According to Nielsen Co., PepsiCo is getting more attention on the Web than any other advertiser except Focus on the Family, which is running an abortion-related spot featuring college star quarterback Tim Tebow.
PepsiCo got 21.6 percent of the online chatter about Super Bowl advertisers over the last two months, Nielsen said -- about 10 times more than Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola is no slouch. Nielsen ranks it No. 6 in early buzz, with U.K.-based tracking service Alterian SM2 pegging it at No. 4 among advertisers.
But Alterian said Coca-Cola was mentioned only about one-third as often as Pepsi in online conversations about the Super Bowl between Dec. 1 and Feb. 3. Alterian says Pepsi is the most talked-about brand.
PepsiCo said it is putting much of its traditional Super Bowl spending into a $20 million charitable effort called the “Pepsi Refresh Project,” through which it plans to give cash to programs and causes picked by fans.
“We believe so much in the ‘Refresh’ idea that we were confident we could get within spitting distance or surpass many Super Bowl advertisers” in online buzz, said Peter Land, senior vice president of communications at PepsiCo Americas Beverages.
The company said the Pepsi Refresh Project is off to a fast start, with 1,000 donation ideas submitted in one 16-hour span. That's about one per minute.
"I've been doing digital for a long time," said Bonin Bough, PepsiCo's global director of digital and social media. "I haven't seen a program in my life with this kind of momentum."
Coca-Cola concedes nothing. The company unveiled a Facebook application last month to allow users to get a sneak peek at Coke’s Super Bowl ads when they give their friends a “virtual” Coke. Coke will donate $1 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for every virtual gift.
Coke’s main Facebook page has 4.6 million fans, about 14 times more than Pepsi’s. Pairing that online reach with word-of-mouth and a TV audience of nearly 100 million on Sunday could make the total effect of Coke’s Super Bowl campaign three times larger than TV commercials alone, the company said.
“People live multi-dimensional lives,” said Katie Bayne, chief marketing officer for Coca-Cola North America. “Specifying one medium over another isn’t the best way to reach them. Our goal is to maximize exposure.”
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