What Pepsi Discovered by Monitoring Millennials During the VMAs

TV vs. second screens

As a brand that has long had event sponsorship at the heart of its marketing formula, Pepsi sought a more scientific way to study the correlation between TV viewing and second-screen usage during live programming.

So using research methods such as biometrics, the brand looked at consumer behavior during the MTV Video Music Awards telecast this past August—the top-rated entertainment program on cable among viewers aged 12-34 this year, and the most social non-sports TV event.

What emerged were some surprising differences in media usage among millennials. During pivotal moments of the show—like Miley Cyrus’ twerk-tastic duet with Robin Thicke (which generated a record 360,000 tweets per minute)—consumers 18-26 immediately shifted from TV viewing to second screens. Meanwhile, those aged 27-34 stayed with the telecast, waiting to engage in social conversations.

“The younger group already had their hands ready and immediately went to social media to start talking,” said Chad Stubbs, senior director of marketing at PepsiCo.

“The show ebbed and flowed, and a key thing we learned was having a brand message throughout the show was important,” he added. “In the past, maybe we said we would need a big part at the beginning or the end.”

Carolyn Kim, associate director of business intelligence at Pepsi agency OMD, pointed out that while there is not a wide disparity of ages among the millennial set, continual advances in technology have led to behavioral differences among those consumers.

Consider this: When email became widely available in 1993, older millennials were 11 years old—but younger millennials were just 2 years old. “Those younger viewers really grew up more with technology as an ordinary part of their everyday lives,” Kim said.

During the VMAs, Facebook was the most popular social media brand, accounting for 41 percent of consumer usage, followed by Twitter with 32 percent. And while Cyrus’ antics burned up Twitter, performances by Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry had fans taking to Facebook to discuss.

Stubbs said he thinks there was a good balance between the brand’s TV and online investment during the VMAs. But he would consider devoting more resources to monitoring social activity. He imagines a focus group that might include a comic, an industry insider, and key millennials and influencers in order to explore ways that the brand might respond to ultimate fans. “We know live TV is a place we need to be—it’s still incredible appointment viewing,” he said. “But it’s not enough for an advertiser to show up with a beautiful ad and wait for everyone to come to it.”

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