[Food for thought] Social Media’s Massive Failure by AdContrarian

For several years there has been consensus among a very vocal and highly placed group of marketing executives and commentators that fundamental changes have taken place in our culture and in technology which render traditional modes of marketing communication no longer relevant or effective.

The thinking behind the hypothesis goes like this:

  • Marketing is a “conversation.”
  • People are no longer willing to accept the “interruption” model of advertising.
  • The objective of marketing communication is for a brand to create “engagement” with consumers.
  • Traditional forms of advertising do not create engagement and have substantially outlived their usefulness.
  • The Internet has created an environment in which consumer control of his/her purchasing behavior is unprecedented.
  • Consumers are quickly moving away from brands that are obviously out to sell them something in favor of brands that seek to engage with them and have conversations.
  • Social media represents the most effective medium for engaging with consumers and having these conversations.

Among mainstream brands that have adopted this new marketing paradigm, none has been more zealous than Pepsi-Cola.

Last year, Pepsi substantially abandoned its long-standing commitment to traditional advertising in favor of social media. It canceled its annual Super Bowl advertising. It diverted tens of millions of dollars from traditional advertising to create the “Pepsi Refresh Project.” Pepsi Refresh was an online social media initiative in which Pepsi gave out 20 million dollars. They also spent many millions more in support of this initiative.

I am pretty certain Refresh is the largest social media initiative ever undertaken. Never before, to my knowledge, has a brand taken so much of its traditional advertising money and energy and re-directed it into social media.

Most major brands have some kind of social media program. But never before, to my knowledge, has a major consumer brand made a social media program the centerpiece of its advertising and marketing.

“We took the divergent path,” explained Frank Cooper, chief consumer engagement officer for Pepsi. “We wanted to explore how a brand could be integrated into the digital space.”

The idea behind the program was that you, the consumer, got to engage with Pepsi by voting for the “Refresh” projects you deemed most worthy. There were also other opportunities to engage through an enormous online effort — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, website, blogs. Millions of dollars were also spent in what might be called “traditional advertising in support of social media.”

Skeptics (such as yours truly) have been eagerly awaiting a report card on this initiative as it is the first real test case for a major brand implementing a massive transfer of marketing resources from traditional advertising to social media.

The results are now in. It has been a disaster.

  • Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Pepsi-Cola and Diet Pepsi had each lost about 5% of their market share in the past year. 
  • If my calculations are correct, for the Pepsi-Cola brand alone this represents a loss of over $350 million. For both brands, the loss is probably something in the neighborhood of 400 million to half-a-billion dollars.
  • For the first time ever Pepsi-Cola has dropped from its traditional position as the number two soft drink in America to number three (behind Diet Coke.)
  • In 2010, Pepsi’s market share erosion accelerated by 8 times compared to the previous year.

The Refresh Project accomplished everything a social media program is expected to: Over 80 million votes were registered; almost 3.5 million “likes” on the Pepsi Facebook page; almost 60,000 Twitter followers. The only thing it failed to do was sell Pepsi.

It achieved all the false goals and failed to achieve the only legitimate one.

In reaction to this disaster, Massimo d’Amore, chief executive of PepsiCo Beverages Americas had this to say…

“When my ancestors went from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, they blew up the place, so that’s what we are doing.”

He also said…

“We need television to make the big, bold statement…

Social media has taken a huge hit. Only zealots and fools will continue to bow down to the gods of social media.

(Later this week here at The Ad Contrarian, “The Pepsi Follies.”)

As usual, the ;ost interesting part are the comments:
examples: “Ramzi Yakob – I think it’s a pretty narrow mind to believe that their marketing alone created this issue for Pepsi. Remember there’s a difference between correlation and causation – trying to pass off their 5% market share drop as a direct result of their change of marketing approach is misleading at best.

It speaks nothing to their distribution agreements and other commercial sensitivities that have a great impact, not to mention the marketing weight of the competitors which may have created this result regardless of Pepsi having a Superbowl ad. Also – is the 5% drop US only or at a Global level? If it’s at a global level, then it’s even less likely that it has anything to do with a Superbowl ad which none of the rest of the world give a rat’s ass about.

I’m not saying you’re wrong – just saying that as an industry we jump too quickly to blame X & Y when really, you probably have no fucking idea what’s causing the change in their market share :o)

Christopher Webb
There are NO SILVER BULLETS in marketing. It’s long been known that 50% of advertising spend is wasted – just because it’s digital doesn’t mean that figure is going to reduce, or that you’ll know with certainty in advance what is and isn’t going to work.”


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