Pepsi Preps Employees on New Ad Effort

It was two days before Christmas in Purchase, N.Y., a small hamlet 24 miles north of New York City. Most of the employees of PepsiCo, which moved its headquarters out of the Big Apple back in 1970, were home with their families—cooking holiday meals, wrapping gifts and, in some cases, drinking rum-and-Pepsis. But not everyone was home that day. A hand-picked group of PepsiCo employees had come to work, then fanned out across the company’s snow-covered, 144-acre campus.

There was plenty to be done, and the whole project had to be finished before everyone else returned after the holiday break.

It was. PepsiCo employees could tell something was different the second they reached the property line. Rising on both sides of the campus driveway were 20-foot tall billboards plastered with greetings: “Howdy,” “Hope,” “Tango” and just “Yo.” Pepsi’s new circular logo stood in place of every “o” in the words. As employees parked their cars, they noticed an enormous blue flag that had been unfurled from the headquarters’ roof—a giant refresh symbol.

Something was up.

That something was called the “Word Play” campaign. In just a week’s time, the world at large would be introduced to the company’s new logo and optimistic attitude. But the marketing would not achieve its full effect unless employees were on-board first. The in-your-face signage was meant to give employees the same feeling that consumers would get in Times Square during New Year’s Eve, which is where PepsiCo would be launching its new initiative publicly.

Subtlety played no part in the proceedings. Hall posters, floor and elevator decals and other placards made it impossible for anyone at headquarters to miss the brand’s new look and message. The push culminated with “Rally Day” on Jan. 15. Pepsi execs gathered up to 4,000 employees, in person and online, and laid out the brand’s strategy for the coming year.

For a company as old and large as PepsiCo, internal-relations efforts are nothing new. But in terms of size, scope and ambition, this effort was a first, according to Bill Wyman, senior marketing manager for trademark Pepsi.

“If we were going to be successful in the marketplace, we were going to have to live and breathe the Pepsi brand with all of our employees,” Wyman says. “We set out to find every opportunity to communicate what we are doing, and why and how we are doing it.”

Wyman even has a term for targeting employees with a branding campaign before it goes public; he calls it “Invertising.”

Given that companies spend millions (in Pepsi’s case, hundreds of millions) to communicate a brand message to the world, it only makes sense to get the brand’s own employees schooled in that messaging first. It’s hard to argue against the logic of such an approach. Yet, across the brand spectrum, “it happens less than it should,” says Mike Kust, CMO of the Carlson Marketing Group, which handles employee morale programs and other related marketing initiatives. When it comes down to companies willing to execute internal-communications strategies that precede the launch of a public ad campaign, “It’s not the majority of companies” that do it, Kust says. “It’s the minority—not north of 50 percent.”

It’s a pretty illustrious minority, however. Kellogg, T-Mobile and Union Pacific have all created internal-buzz-building campaigns in the past. “Companies that are high performing and do well in terms of long-term profitability are more inclined to have programs that make sure employees are aware of the brand promise,” says Karen Renk, executive director of the Incentive Marketing Assn.

Meanwhile, those brands that skip over internal messaging could be missing out, according to Scott Testa, marketing professor at Philadelphia’s Saint Joseph’s University. “Companies like a Pepsi or a Coke or a Nike are basically just marketing companies,” he says. “It makes a whole lot of sense to get everyone on board and riled up, because these campaigns can make or break them.”