Pepsi Sees a Chance to Fill Newspapers’ Void

From Gatorade’s “Replay” of two high school football rival teams to Pepsi’s “Dear Mr. President” viral video campaign, PepsiCo is making a big splash in social and digital media. Pepsi’s point man on these efforts has been Bonin Bough, who oversees all things tweet, blog and YouTube-related at the company. Since joining Pepsi last fall, Bough has pushed for brand initiatives that drive and create meaningful conversations with consumers. Hence Trop50’s “The Juice,” a new, online community where women can talk about everything from diaper rashes to pancake mixes to time management. These, and many other upcoming efforts, are indicative of where PepsiCo is taking social media: from “campaigns to conversations,” and likewise, “from impressions to connections.” Bough spoke with Brandweek about the  media landscape, how the recession is causing marketers to be more experimental, and what he does all day at Pepsi. Some excerpts are below:

You’re the first digital marketing guru we’ve interviewed in this space, at least recently. (Lately, we’ve been chatting with CMOs.) So, what exactly do you do as PepsiCo’s global director of digital and social media?
Bonin Bough: My primary role involves thinking about, “how do we start integrating social media into the overall organization?” It’s everything from internal communications to our external marketing programs, not just brand marketing. So, questions like, “How do we look at some common platforms and services that we might be able to use across the organization?” And, “What are some new strategies and platforms that we might explore?”

BW: What’s a typical day like? What do you wear? Who do you talk to? Are you on Twitter all day?
BB: Nothing is ever typical about my day…But I’m a big suit guy. I came from an agency, so it was either suit or jeans. Although I will say, PepsiCo is a slacks-and-shirt culture, but I don’t really own just slacks and shirts. I figure, once I get the [suit] pants on, I might as well go all the way. Fridays, you’ll see me in jeans.

I’m communicating on Twitter; monitoring reports across the brands; making sure we’re reading influencers so we can see what’s breaking; what things we should be focusing on or reading about, including trend reports, and there are always lots of meetings and planning sessions. We also have a lot going on with South by Southwest [PepsiCo sponsored live coverage of the 2009 music, film and interactive festival through tweets, blogs and live interviews via SxSw’s BlogTalkRadio.] That can all be part of my daily planner.

BW: Prior to joining PepsiCo, you led Weber Shandwick’s global interactive, social and emerging media practice. How are the two roles different?
BB: [In this position], you have a deeper and longer view and you’re a lot closer to the business. It’s a totally different mindset and it’s really exciting. The reason it’s different in this job is, you are more closely tied to driving business goals and the company’s transformation versus just programs. I shouldn’t say that, [considering] I spent ten years of my life on the agency side. But here, we’re looking at the sustainability of programs across a number of years. It’s not just about moving from campaign to campaign. It’s about, “How do you develop processes and appropriately plan resources so you are growing the resources and the results year after year,” and that you actually have sustainable programs that you are creating and crafting.

BW: Top three items on your to-do list at moment?
BB: I’m focusing on our relationship with Trop50 and BlogHer [the leading women’s blogging community]. We definitely see women bloggers as an amazing group of folks with which we’d like to build long-term and lasting relationships.

The next big component is, “How do we continue to bring those influencer voices inside an organization?” We did that at South by Southwest, where we started learning from the conversation and the major trends that are out there. We launched PepTrends [where top PepsiCo communicators, influencers and Twitter users gathered for a day to tweet about emerging global trends]. So, it’s about, “How do you bring these voices from the outside in?”…We are bringing the outside in and the inside out…There are so many great ideas in this space and by no means do we have enough good ideas. It’s just, “how do we start working with them?”

BW: “The Juice”- the new Trop50 partnership that just launched in partnership with BlogHer and iVillage (the two Web sites, combined, have 20 million unique visitors, per data from comScore). What’s that intended to do for the brand?
BB: “The Juice” is a unique online community where women express practical ideas and tips with each other. In some respects, it [honors] that tradition of women gathered around the table sharing stories and tips. It creates a digital version of that kitchen [gathering] and provides a place for them to have these conversations. It’s tied to the proposition of the brand, which is, “more of what you want and less of what you don’t,” and it comes out of the brand’s heritage itself. Trop50 was born from listening to consumers and answering a specific consumer need. [It has 50 percent less sugar and calories than Tropicana.] We know the success of the product is really about awareness and that will come from the authentic expression women have with the product and what better way than for them to talk about their experiences with the product, but also their experiences [with life] as a whole?

BW: Where are you taking social and digital media at PepsiCo? What’s your vision for it?
BB: It’s really about, “How do we take it from the campaign to the conversation?” and, “How do we move from impressions to connections?”…It’s about shifting from that model of, “are you light or dark, light or dark,” to, “here is an ongoing conversation where we layer campaign efforts, if necessary,” and we want to have a consistent, ongoing and authentic dialogue with our consumers. That is the core [of our philosophy.] And it’s about making sure we’re doing that across all of our brands in a way that is adding value to the conversations and not just being there for conversation’s sake, but actually measuring value and tracking that back to real visual value.

It’s also about bringing more voices into that conversation. There was a time when everyone was looking for the influencers. I think they are important, but so are advocates. So you think, influencers, advocates-small nuance between the two, right? Influencers, however, are people who have a huge audience. Advocates are people who are passionate about your brand. They might talk to one or a million people, but they have passion for your brand and ideals and what you are doing. How do we identify them and help them become advocates for us, as well as bring them in to have a conversation with us, especially? We’re doing that with Trop50. It’s the delivery of the message against the brand’s platform.

BW: How is the recession affecting the way marketers embrace social media?
BB: There are a number of things marketers are concerned with today that are changing the landscape of marketing. I think what’s really driving adoption of social media is the fact that when you look at the numbers, people trust content created by people like themselves more than they trust ad content. With newspapers-the second largest media in the world-deteriorating in front of our eyes, what are people turning to? Digital. Consumers are looking for a new home to find this content. They are looking at content that is created by people like themselves and is of a more editorially fast pace.

That’s an exciting opportunity right there because it’s an entire redefining of how the marketing and communications ecosystems can work together. Brands are now starting to have bigger connections with their consumers. For the first time, consumers want to have this open dialogue with you on Twitter: “Hey, love Pepsi, talk to me.” For us, it’s about figuring out how we can participate in an authentic way and delivering on the value that our consumer-who owns and loves these brands-deserves.

BW: If social media were to all of a sudden disappear, is there another media that would come close to filling that void?

BB: Mobile. It’s the only device that you have next to you three feet away at any point in time. It’s not the next huge thing; it’s huge right now. But I think mobile would quickly fill that void. What we’ll see are an extension of the same kind of thought and conversational processes we’re having online onto mobile. When you do sit and look at Twitter, a lot of it is uploaded through [devices like TwitterBerry] so people are using these tools and there will be geographically distinctions which marketers will have to work with. That’s going to be a game changer.

BW: The “Dear Mr. President, Refresh Everything” social media campaign (where consumers could upload a video through an ad banner)-how big of a success was that for PepsiCo? Why did it work so effectively?
BB: It speaks again to giving people a platform to share their thoughts. And that’s really important. Just look at YouTube. If you really think about it, it’s the largest broadcast network in the world, and in such a short amount of time, too. People are willing to share if they are given a structured opportunity to do so. That was a change mindset we tapped into. It was phenomenal program that drove a ton of interest. It spoke worlds to the fact that Pepsi is about enabling experiences via the music platform.

BW: Favorite real-time Twitter experience?
BB: It happened during Peptrends. One Tweet talked about the stream of consciousness in the room and how [the author] found it hard to follow the entire conversation, but how amazing that stream of consciousness feeling was. We had 100 communicators in the room, five people on stage and monitors on the right hand side, which were constantly updated with Tweets, and you could see how frenetic and crazy the energy was. That Tweet was about this insane stream of consciousness.