Pepsi sits out the Super Bowl in favor of “cause-related marketing”

Classic Pepsi commercial from the 1960s

Pepsi has long been a major advertiser during the Super Bowl — the most expensive and widely-seen showcase for television advertising — but in 2010 they’re taking a different approach.

“Pepsi Benches Its Drinks,” Suzanne Vranica, Wall Street Journal 12/17/2009

In lieu of spending as much as $3 million for each 30-second ad during the Super Bowl broadcast — plus production costs — Pepsi is focusing its advertising strategy for soft drinks on a campaign that centers on community projects but also uses traditional and online advertising.

To implement its new strategy, Pepsi, based in Purchase, N.Y., will plunge into the crowded field of cause-related marketing in coming weeks with a campaign to kick off “Pepsi Refresh Project.” Under the program, Pepsi will award grant money for community projects proposed and selected by consumers, such as helping high-school students publish books to develop their writing skills. Pepsi says it has earmarked $20 million of its ad dollars for the grants next year.

This is a risky move for Pepsi, but it has already yielded some dividends in news stories (and blog posts like this one) about the change in approach. The new campaign looks to be aimed at creating a new image for Pepsi, beyond the “think young” message they have traditionally projected. Launching a grants-based project during an economic downturn will certainly be welcomed by community groups.