Thursday, February 4, 2010

Declaring your Priorities with CHUTZPAH

Pepsi may seem like an odd candidate for a positive-connotation Chutzpah of the Week award. Indeed, there are many who would be surprised to come up with anything positive to say about Pepsi. However, Super Bowls have a tendency to bring out some strange behavior; and when there is a positive tone to that strangeness, then it deserves some recognition. In this case one might say that the chutzpah has to do with a "virtue of omission" (as opposed to a sin of omission). It was explained yesterday on the Time Web site by Sean Gregory:

Instead of pouring millions of dollars into a Super Bowl commercial, Pepsi has started a social-media campaign to promote its "Pepsi Refresh" initiative. Pepsi plans to give away $20 million in grant money to fund projects in six categories: health, arts and culture, food and shelter, the planet, neighborhoods and education. People can go to the Pepsi website — which can also be accessed through Facebook and Twitter — to both submit ideas and vote on others they find appealing. Among those on the site now: "Help free healthcare clinic expand services to uninsured in rural TN" and "Build a fitness center for all students in Hays, Kansas community." Every month, the company will offer up to 32 grants to worthy projects.

This could easily be a publicity stunt; but, even if it is, at least some of the publicity may be aimed in the right direction.

It his report Gregory raised the obviously question of why Pepsi did not choose both paths, using the Super Bowl to publicize the Pepsi Refresh initiative. The counterargument was such that the fact that it was presented at all indicates a change in the times:

The problem, say marketing experts, is mixing the medium with the message. "The Super Bowl is just too extravagant for something like this," says Lee Clow, chief creative officer and global director of media arts at TBWA Worldwide, the agency that created Pepsi's campaign. "It's seems like a contradiction to say you're going to set aside $20 million in marketing dollars for a worthy cause, then turn around and spend $12 million on two 60-second spots for the Super Bowl. Couldn't that money be put to better use?"

Plus, says Clow, the Super Bowl audience comes with certain expectations. People want the commercials to entertain them. They want to see others having a good time, because they're having a good time themselves at a Super Bowl party. They want to talk about the ads at the watercooler. "If you show up with something serious like [Pepsi Refresh], you're going to get ignored," says Clow, who also masterminded Apple's legendary "1984" Super Bowl ad. "If you're going to be there, you have to do something over the top." Some serious spots, like the anti-abortion ad from Focus on the Family, in which the mother of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow explains how she ignored doctor's orders to terminate her pregnancy with her star son, could fit because they stir controversy. There's nothing controversial about building rural health clinics.

Granted, Pepsi may still be playing a massive image manipulation game; but at least it seems as if they are cultivating an image that has more to do with seeing to the needs of a troubled population than with getting those folks into deeper trouble by fanning the flames of further consumerism. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to commit to both the plan and its implementation, so why should Pepsi not get a Chutzpah of the Week award as part of the bargain?

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