Pepsi Going for More Speed, Less Data in Music Marketing

How the brand pursues relevance and influence

For Pepsi's pop music marketing, keeping up is essential.

"Our mission is to move at the speed of culture," said Bozoma Saint John, Pepsi's head of music and entertainment marketing, during Advertising Week's "The Sellout" panel Tuesday. "If we move too slowly we've missed the moment, and therefore our brand is no longer relevant." 

Pepsi has used pop stars in ads for decades, working in the past with artists like Michael Jackson, and Beyonce headlining the brand's current efforts. But across the marketing industry, deals between brands and artists have become increasingly common in recent years, as collapsing record sales have forced the music business to find new sources of revenue, and as brands have sought new ways to reach consumers who are tuning out traditional forms of advertising like television spots, in favor of digital media.

"We have to find ways to create content that folks want to see," said Saint John. "That can't be done in a sort of one-time-only type of scenario. We have to find a way to make the story bigger." In other words, the marketing efforts of the music industry and other businesses like Pepsi have become more closely intertwined than simply licensing songs for advertisements. "If you have the labels pushing the music, [and the brand] pushing the music, everyone can win in the end—that's the best case," said Saint John.

Perhaps counter intuitively, more speed doesn't necessarily mean more data. "We're trying to figure out how to use less data actually, if that makes any sense," said Saint John. "Because our business is driven by data. It's a data business. It's analytics. We need to know what volume is looking like. What's happening daily on data. We rely so much on that, so when it comes to things that are culture, I'm trying to actually help unlearn some of that behavior.

"So when people ask me things like 'Oh what's the score on such and such artist,'" continued Saint John, "I'm just like 'I don't know, and we're not going to find out.' It becomes a very different conversation about maybe what their influence is on social, without looking at the numbers, or how they are affecting culture or in the case of Mountain Dew, how we are changing culture in a specific genre."

Nonetheless, Pepsi has done substantial work over the years with web music service Pandora, a company that is busy emphasizing the value of using data to help better connect marketers and artists and audiences to one another.

"What we offer to brands is that we can target the audience that they want to hit," explained Tommy Page, vp of artist partnership and events at Pandora. "We can figure out exactly what the brand is going for, who that person is and then find the artists that are trending with the same description and demographic, and then geo target them via our data. Our data is our secret sauce."

Of course, the broader increase in music-brand deals doesn't mean that they're always easy to navigate. "Every brand has their horror stories about working with an artist," said Gabe McDonough, vp music director at Leo Burnett. "And it's getting to the point  now where people are going into things very much with their guard up."

That's left him routinely managing expectations ahead of time, he said, telling clients "Rare is the deal where there's not some crazy-ass curveball thrown in. So just know when that happens know that the sky isn't falling. That's just all part of getting there."