Pepsi’s New NFL Campaign Pivots to Fan-Centric Advertising

Beverage brand partnered with the Pittsburgh Steelers to delight two superfans

Pepsi brought stadium seats right into the homes of these two Steelers superfans. Pepsi

Tim Dougherty and his son, Pat, have been going to Pittsburgh Steelers games together for nearly two decades. It’s something that Tim first experienced with his own father in the late ’60s when they attended a Steelers game in the old Pitt Stadium, and he’s been a season ticket holder since 1973. This year, of course, will be different.

It’s been a rough couple years for the Doughertys. Tim was diagnosed with cancer in 2018 and underwent treatment last year. Then, in October, his wife passed away. The family was looking forward to the football season as a return to normalcy.

When Pepsi learned of the Doughertys’ story, the brand wanted to find a way to bring the games home to them. Working with the Steelers, Pepsi organized for the family’s bright yellow seats to be removed from the stadium and installed in their living room. Ryan Shazier, former Steelers linebacker, helped deliver the seats so that Tim and Pat can have a small slice of the stadium experience during games this season.

The spot, created by VaynerMedia, is part of Pepsi’s broader campaign strategy for this season that focuses on football watchers. The TV commercials do that with more lightness and humor, while these personalized activations and accompanying short films hone in on the emotional side of fandom.

“One thing that’s so interesting with Covid is that it’s created all these constraints on the world and on society and on people’s lives,” said Pepsi’s vp of marketing, Todd Kaplan. “If you lean into the whitespace, that’s an opportunity to then fill that void or solve it in a different or unique way.”

Pepsi’s marketing strategy over the last several months has been focused on exactly that—listening to what fans are missing, and looking to address those needs. Just a few weeks ago, the brand unveiled a tailgating paradise for a family of New York Jets fans that were feeling the loss of tailgate culture especially acutely.

The at-home tailgate activation gave the family a way to continue practicing their game day ritual throughout this abnormal football season by paving their driveway to create a “parking lot” for home tailgate parties.

That kind of personalized experience, paired with a broader focus on the fans through a campaign that includes social media filters, game-time advertising and digital activations exemplifies the fan-centric nature of Pepsi’s NFL campaign this year.

Kaplan also stressed that it’s also about being ready to change quickly—ensuring that plans remain agile.

“You look at our quick culture changes [that] right now on a dime,” said Kaplan. “You got to be on your toes ready for what’s next.”

While Kaplan didn’t share any contingency plans for the possibility of a canceled Super Bowl, he did acknowledge that marketing right now requires advertisers to “plan for the unplanned.”

@klundster Kathryn Lundstrom is Adweek's breaking news reporter based in Austin.