For years, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have been at odds in the beverage category, pushing each other forward in the race for market share, innovation, and advertising impressions. Though amicable, there has never been any doubt that they were competing for the preference and consumption of the same audience. As a result, their actions have often been compared, and their recent mirrored campaigns of social responsibility have introduced another opportunity to draw comparisons.
These campaigns mark what may be a seismic shift in corporate responsibility. While grassroots initiatives have fought tooth and nail to enact change, Pepsi and Coca-Cola's new campaigns exhibit the bold leadership that is necessary to change the way companies look at their role within the greater global community. However, it is hard to believe that these initiatives would be totally selfless, and many are wondering what these companies stand to gain from their efforts. Are these efforts integral to the brands, or a tactic for press? A sign of the modern corporation, or just two companies capitalizing on a trend? Let's take a closer look.
Pepsi has always attempted to embody the "choice of the new generation." From advertisements with Britney Spears to "Generation Next" and its fresh, irreverent tone, Pepsi has always spoken to a young audience, the upcoming generation. January 2009 brought about the newest iteration of this idea, the "Refresh Yourself" campaign, firmly aligning the brand with hope, optimism, and change, complete with a new logo that recalls the one omnipresent during President Obama's campaign.
However, it wasn't until early 2010 that Pepsi brought this idea to life with the Pepsi Refresh Project. The site invites people, businesses, and nonprofits to submit ideas that will have a positive impact on the world; these ideas are eligible for grant money in one of four amounts -- $5k, $25k, $50k, and $250k -- within six categories: Health, Arts & Culture, Food & Shelter, The Planet, Neighborhoods and Education. The ideas are then voted upon by visitors to the site for one month. At the end of that month, finalists are selected to receive grant money -- up to $1.3 million each month. But more than just providing money, Pepsi helps connect grant recipients with others who are passionate about the same cause and want to offer their support. These connections are made through some of the non-profits aligned with the project, such as GOOD and GlobalGiving.
The experience of these partners has also lent a credibility to the project that Pepsi has never had before; the PepsiCo Foundation has helped support health initiatives such as fitness programs and clean water availability, as well as numerous environmental programs, but none of these have ever garnered the same excitement and buzz as the Refresh Project.
Coca-Cola, on the other hand, has a long history of emphasizing social responsibility. Its 64-year partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America is stronger than ever, with Coca-Cola's new donation matching program through the end of the month, supplying up to $150,000. Coca-Cola has also recently helped to fund Haitian relief, donating $1 million to the American Red Cross in the first 24 hours after the earthquake, the most recent disaster relief effort of many in which Coca-Cola has partnered with the ARC.
Both of these actions are part of the new Live Positively campaign, a collection of projects guided by the company's stated commitment to make a positive difference in the world through sustainability. With focuses ranging from climate protection and balanced living to education and community, the Live Positively campaign is a natural extension of the social responsibility that Coca-Cola has prided itself on since the mid-20th century.
This commitment should be no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the Coca-Cola brand; Coca-Cola has always aimed to stand for happiness, togetherness and sharing. It stands for polar bears sharing Cokes with penguins, and singing together on a hill. Its message is timeless; Coca-Cola is joy through sharing and connection.
Enter the latest push from Coca-Cola. With projects such as the Sprite Step Off Competition and Triple Play, Coca-Cola is continuing its commitment to living out its brand values. Considering this long-standing commitment, it is hard to chalk these efforts up to selfishness, but the truth is that corporate responsibility is increasingly a driving factor in brand preference and purchase behavior, and both Coca-Cola and Pepsi realize that.
This "conscious capitalism" has been a growing trend, and for good reason. A 2006 Millennial Cause Study by Cone Inc. and AMP Insights found that 69% of Millennials will consider a company's social and environmental commitment when deciding where to shop, and a whopping 89% are likely to switch from one brand to another if the second brand is associated with a good cause. That's powerful motivation for companies fighting for market share.
Further, because Pepsi has always been timely, it's hard to know if this new campaign is merely a way to leverage what's "in" right now or if they're doing it as an integral part of the brand. However, it was a huge step for a corporation as large as Pepsi to devote all of the money they'd typically spend on a Super Bowl ad, the red carpet event of advertising, on helping individuals create the change Pepsi talks about in their advertisements. When the campaign launched in January of '09, there was a highly publicized ad proclaiming, "Every generation refreshes the world. Now it's your turn."
It seems that Pepsi wasn't just talking the talk -- they're giving their audience the means to walk the walk, and doing so themselves by making that commitment. Perhaps we'll have a better idea of if this campaign is born out of the desire for press and increased sales as time goes on; if the project continues to grow and Pepsi continues to give back, then this will truly be a sign of Pepsi's commitment to move the company's influence in a positive direction.
Admittedly, both of these companies need to be successful in order to create such commitments of time and money, and much of what they're doing is based on the grassroots initiatives that have been in place for decades. Mallika Chopra, the Health Ambassador for the Refresh Project, says that it is Pepsi's size that not only allows such commitments but inspires smaller companies to do the same. "When a company like Pepsi puts a stake in the ground to say, 'We, as this big company, are going to do [this],' it really begins to shift and accelerate what's already been happening [on a grassroots level]." Chopra hopes that smaller companies will follow Pepsi's lead in empowering individuals to make a difference.
As for inspiring like projects, it is clear that Coca-Cola and Pepsi are again competing for the attention and affection of similar audiences, folks who want to "do good." While Coca-Cola's Live Positively campaign launched before Pepsi's Refresh Project, it doesn't appear that Pepsi's project has been reactionary in any way. In fact, where Coca-Cola historically connects individuals and their purchases with external partners, Pepsi partners directly with the individuals themselves, engaging with them on a totally different level. Though it is hard to tell this early in the game, it is clear that Pepsi's campaign has captured the attention of hundreds of thousands of individuals; the maximum 1,000 submissions were entered in less than a day when the project first began February 1, and it has only grown from there. We'll have to wait and see how Coca-Cola's partners fare, but it seems dubious that the impact could possibly be as great.
That said, Coca-Cola's approach to corporate responsibility is set at a much more sustainable pace. When Pepsi's project comes to a close at the end of 2010, it may have achieved great things, but it remains to be seen if it is a one-time event or an ongoing promise. In the long run, Coca-Cola can probably offer more to its partners and their initiatives than Pepsi will be able to with their grants; once that money is gone, it is up to the individuals to maintain the necessary relationships and stay committed to the cause if they want to continue their project. Nonetheless, some of these projects may never get off the ground without the help of grants, and Pepsi's empowerment of those initiatives could create lasting change yet unimagined.
It is interesting to note that both companies have healthy lifestyle focuses in their efforts, considering the lack of nutrition in their products. In an age where two-thirds of adults and almost a third of children and adolescents in the U.S. are overweight or obese, some would say that the soda companies (and fast food companies, and video game developers, and television networks...) have a responsibility to promote healthy choices through programs and funding. Pepsi's campaign highlights Health as one of the six categories for grants, but they do nothing to actively suggest individuals propose fitness programs or nutritional education. In time, the Health news segment will draw in current health news as well as provide everyday tips for a healthier life, but thus far there is not even any mention of Pepsi's previous and current commitments to health, including the Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative. Coca-Cola's Live Positively, on the other hand, does address childhood obesity concerns with Triple Play, an after-school program through the Boys & Girls Clubs of America that teaches kids about nutrition, exercise and teamwork to help them to make healthy food choices and enjoy sustained physical activity. By placing this program in the campaign as a featured initiative, Coca-Cola addresses the obesity concerns to which some of their products contribute.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi have not been alone in their corporate responsibility efforts. In fact, the Coca-Cola "Mailbox" spot for the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation is not unlike the campaign we've seen on Starbucks cups as of late, where "You" are given the credit for Starbucks initiatives through your purchase and subsequent support of the company. Target has long been committed to giving back to educational systems in their community by donating 5% of their income to the local community, and the proliferation of organizations like GOOD are all signs of a changing consumer mindset and community value. But as Chopra pointed out, the sheer scale of these soda company campaigns mark a shift in corporate expectations, and it is fair to say that the bar has been raised. It's unfair to forget that grassroots organizations have been dedicating time, money and efforts to these kinds of initiatives for years, because they are what makes campaigns like Live Positively and the Refresh Project possible, but ten years ago, it'd be a rare company that would give the power to the people to determine where funds would be awarded and enacted on such a significant scale.
While Coca-Cola's campaign seems to be a continuation of the commitment they've made for decades, the scale and empowerment of Pepsi's campaign sets a new standard for other companies who must rise to the occasion. Only time will tell if Coca-Cola and Pepsi will continue to evolve their commitments, and we cannot know now if their actions will trickle down to corporations at large, but we can hope, and we can support these campaigns and tell these companies that we will reward their efforts. Get involved today and help encourage corporations to empower your community.
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