PepsiCo’s Javier Farfan Talks About Blowing Up Genres and What Makes Great Creative

The Clio music juror listens for authentic chords

Creating a new cultural fluency for a brand as large and diverse as PepsiCo seems like a tall order. But sitting across from the man charged with that task—a denim-draped, chill and focused Javier Farfan—in the company’s New York offices, it takes on a clear mandate. Tacking through constantly shifting music and cultural currents in search of authentic marketing moments is Farfan’s charge—and why he was selected as a juror for the inaugural Clio Music Awards. Here, Farfan talks about the importance of listening carefully to millennial audiences as they move through varied influences and the creative energy that can come from the root alchemy of great music married with the right imagery.

Adweek: How has culture influenced the music and marketing space?
It actually has been more impactful lately than ever before. As we think about engaging new audiences, as we think about being at the pulse of what’s going on in the world, culture plays an even more important role in defining how to really make a genuine connection with the people we’re trying to sell our products to. People are looking for authentic connections.

What are some of the levers that a brand like Pepsi has to pull to achieve that authenticity?
One of them is constantly listening to the audience and participating in their world in an authentic way, and then enabling things that they need and supporting those things. I think our emerging artist program is a way for us to do that. Let’s give artists the tools to do what they want to do and reach the audience that wants to hear them and give them that access. That’s the way you really build that authentic relationship.

You’ve worked at both Microsoft and Viacom. What did you learn in those two roles that you can bring to your job at Pepsi?
It actually makes me a very different type of marketer within the Pepsi space because it allows me to understand the impact and the way technology and digital folks work. It’s a different speed. It’s a different perspective on how to engage, and I understand those nuances. Viacom helped me understand how to utilize media in the right way to create deeper engagement, but it also gave me a real perspective on how to deal with music talent and what they’re looking for and how to really create strategic partnerships that benefit both.

As a marketer, how do you play in a world in which tech has fully democratized music for the consumer?
I think there’s so much more that will happen with these open platforms to create music and share it. Think about Beatport on the EDM side or SoundCloud or Shazam as platforms that are rapidly evolving, and advertisers and brands are starting to really partner with these guys. There are very interesting ways to enable more of that democratization of music and shining lights on folks. I don’t think we’ve optimized or really tested the frontier of what we can potentially do.

Are there things that you’d like to try creatively that you haven’t?
One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is how to really use the amount of information that we have to make better decisions about engaging our fans within music experiences and finding better ways of predicting or partnering with a slew of young artists that are bubbling up. I think we’ve gone with gut and the art form of it, which is important. I’m not denying that that’s going to be a big part of the role, but with a little bit more information, how much better can we get?

How are you preparing for the post-millennial generation that sees the smartphone as a utility rather than technology?
That’s a challenging one. I feel like we are embracing new forms of media very quickly, but I don’t think it’s about the medium anymore. It’s about the communication strategy and the story that you want to tell. When you focus there, then you are creating a storyline that is ubiquitous to whatever platforms exist.

What are some of the mistakes that brands tend to make when dealing with this new world you’re trying to serve?
I think being complacent and just buying standard sponsorship packages. I think people really need to grasp a deeper understanding of the lifestyles that they’re trying to reach into and be open to the fact that they have many different faces. It’s a different investment strategy than just saying, “I’m buying this package and I’m riding the wave.” The folks that do that are going to have a hard time in a few years, especially as these millennials get older. It will be a totally different space and we have to be OK with the complexity of it all.

You judged the Clio Music Awards. How was that experience and did you see any work that you thought was particularly inspiring?
I thought the whole process was inspiring actually. It was enlightening for me because what you start doing is looking at your own work through your peers’ work and begin to better understand what you value and what’s put out there. And just the innovation and nuance, just the ideas, I thought it was fascinating.

Were there trends that you picked up on during the judging process?
Just music as a storytelling audio tool. It’s so simple, but also so powerful at the same time if it’s done right. And it doesn’t have to be so radically innovative. It could just be a great song and beautiful associated images that really bring that creative to life.

Were there interactive elements in the work you saw that you found creative but also useful?
I think using interactive innovations in outdoor is a very interesting way you can use music within that space to create a true call to action for an audience. But it can’t be gimmicky. It has to have a purpose.