Marlboro is showing the way forward for Pepsi brand strategy

Soda pop consumption in the U.S. has fallen for the 8th year in a row, falling by 1.2% in 2012 to its lowest level since 1987. First lady Michelle Obama maintains a national charge to get kids to stop drinking it, and New York MayorMichael Bloomberg wants to limit consumption legislative. Alternatives to soda bend on as many cylinders as sales have flavor options, from sports drinks and flavored waters, energy drinks and teas.

300px-Marlboro4wiki2So it was surprising to me that Pepsi just last week called the global marketing director who:

1) Has no experience in the beverage business, but, rather, did things like cut entertainment tie-ins for fashion brands, and

2) Will be charged with “think about how Pepsi continues to be the brand in the category of colas that reinvents things and excites people with new ideas, “according to one interview.

But then it hit me: soda category cigarette industry of the 21st century. Speaking from a pack a day smoker or a big drinker daily volley, branding task is to confirm the selection compared to existing clients make pitches for new ones. That’s why it makes sense for Pepsi, to hire a marketer who stands for things such as “engagement” and “culture”, not “sales.”

You can not separate the soda pop or cigarette branding from the context of the 20th century. Both were originally considered to be good for you, whether dispensed through pharmacies fountains or recommended by doctors to calm the nerves. Then, as the economy and culture of empowered people to express themselves, soda pop and tobacco were sold as quickly, rewarding ways to do this. Media brands allowed claim of happiness symbolic abstraction, independence and success, and then repeat that positioning in the centuries creative and persuasive ways. Functional advantages of sugar, caffeine and nicotine were inevitable, but people tend to choose one brand over another because of the images associated with them.

Those days are long gone.

Obesity is a cancer of the lungs of our century. It’s a self-inflicted result of consumer choice. As cigarettes and cancer, the functional benefits of drinking soda pop is one of the reasons (though not consistently and only). Of course, there are no warning labels on soda pop cans, limits on where and how they may be advertised, or special taxes levied on them sin … more … it’s just not cool to drink regular soda pop, as it were, as in the way lost their panache of cigarettes over time. Without the credibility of the media to tell consumers otherwise, associative benefits of drinking soda, it seems, is slowly moving towards those of smoking.

Thus, the marketing challenge is to keep reducing the audience of customers using these products. Cigarette brands, particularly Marlboro, have shown the way forward for this branding strategy, which includes three main components:

Buying entertainment properties and events that promote the lifestyle, while avoiding any claim benefits allows brands to communicate directly with the main consumers without, well, says a lot about. So, like Marlboro sponsored Formula One racing (RJ Reynolds did NASCAR), Pepsi is spending a lot for the privilege of having a pop star Beyonce did not sell soda pop in ads (coke major coin falls on Taylor Swift).

Since your product can have negative connotations, creation merch, which could have the benefits of being you’re branding through overtly hyping it. Marlboro has done a brilliant job of creating jackets, hats and other accessories for your perfect customers to use (I think that it is beneficial to them, so that branding pays for itself). For soda pop costumers, the corollary products are things like online games and down lands. Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola is already very active in the music.

Philip Morris, the parent company of Marlboro, was literally buying goodwill for their brands for many years with great contributions to the art (even giving her a place in the headquarters of the lobby in the Art Museum). Doing good deeds avoids making direct claims against the brand benefits while, again, getting the message across. Pepsi flirted a few years ago with a campaign called Project Pepsi Refresh, which was too cute for his own good, and the recent Arctic Home Coke campaign tried to link the consumption of soda with the environment. I’ll bet there are more coming.

Marlboro has proven that preaching to the faithful can be very profitable, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the sale of legal products, handing out money, and let people who love your stuff to like it even a little (Full disclosure: I smoked Marlboros for a decade and loved every minute of it).

Slowing down to reduce the consumption of soda pop is a much different task than growing use. Each new bank, a bottle, a sweetener, or innovation can help retain customers longer, but will likely not get why anyone would drink the stuff in the first place. Neither will splashy, expensive campaign sponsorship, merchandising, marketing or philanthropy.

Pepsi has a story to tell, and every right to say it. For example Marlboro assumes that we already know the story.


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