Strike 2 for PepsiCo

Pepsi’s sales of Gatorade are down, despite the launch of a very expensive and, frankly, self-indulgent marketing campaign. That makes two marketing missteps for the beverage giant, after their February packaging debacle with Tropicana (listen to this NPR interview about it with friend of Red Slice, Scott Montgomery of BaM Advertising). I would not want to be that CMO right now, I’ll tell you that.
The NPR interview speaks enough about the rebranding mistake, so let me share why I personally hated the new “G” campaign from the very beginning. And I mean “hated” – I normally don’t feel that strongly negative about ad campaigns, but this one really got under my skin and made me not want to ever buy the product – which sounds like the similar reaction that others may have had, given their sales.
When the “What’s G?” teaser TV ads first appeared, they showcased a black and white haunting collage of famous athletes, one after the other, as the camera seems to pan down the line. Each of them have about a half a second as the primary focus, and they are shown talking about the mystery of “G” – “the heart, hustle and soul of athleticism.” Now I am all too familiar with the power of teaser ads to leave just enough mystery as to whip up curiosity and viral marketing power. When done effectively, they really can work well. In this case, not so much.
Why? Because they just annoyed me. They were so obscure, I was confused. I had no idea what this product was for and more importantly, why I should care. First rule of marketing: What’s in it for me? And with the haunting music playing in the background (and the disturbing talents of Jabberwocky at the end that kind of freaked me out in the same way that clowns and mimes do), I was left very uncomfortable, confused and angry. I was also a little offended that they exploited Muhammed Ali the way they did in the ad. Was this some kind of artistic, high brow reference I was not supposed to understand? Was this just some inside joke among smug ad execs who said, “If people don’t ‘get it’ then it’s not for them anyway?”
Ok, maybe I’m not the primary target audience. But I admit I was intrigued enough to look online and try to find out what the heck this was all about. And at first, I couldn’t find anything. What kind of tie-in is that? You have piqued my interest, even if in a negative way, and now you leave me completely hanging?
According to the article in the WSJ, the goal of the campaign was to make the brand cool again and it backfired. I’ll say. Bill Pecoriello of ConsumerEdge Research states in the article, “They asked, ‘What’s G’ and the problem was, people weren’t sure.” Consumers complained they were confused as well, which explains the sales slump.
When you try to be so obscure and cool that you confuse most people, and more importantly, your target audience, you have a messaging problem and you are out of touch with what your customers want and need. That’s just rebranding run amock.
I’m afraid to ask what strike #3 will be for Pepsi’s marketing department. And all of this coming after a pretty well-received relaunch for the core Pepsi brand look and feel. Yikes.

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