Pepsi’s Emoji Billboards and Instagram Photos Are Cool in Ways That the TV Isn’t

Daniel Arnold and Ben Watts bring an attitude to the work

Headshot of Tim Nudd

There's no getting around the fact that emojis, whatever their social equity among young people, are quite literally cartoony. And if you're going to build a whole global ad campaign around them, as Pepsi has done with PepsiMoji, it's going to feel pretty lightweight. And indeed, the five-second TV ads, which we wrote about earlier, are bubbly but also fleetingly goofy—all the more so because of their short length.

Good thing, then, that Pepsi wisely decided to get some help from photographers for the out-of-home and Instagram elements of the campaign, created by Lloyd&Co. 

As is the case with fashion brands, soda marketers can get more from OOH than almost any other medium. It's a chance to do brand work on a grand scale, with little more than a feeling to guide the creative—the product barely has to get in the way at all. We saw that with Coca-Cola's new print and OOH, which has a timeless feel (and was, not coincidentally, themed "Taste the Feeling" even though the product was front and center).

Now, Pepsi has done something similar with its PepsiMoji OOH work, recruiting photographer Ben Watts to create street scenes in which emojis are the interlopers, not the main stars. Check out the ad above, and three more below: 

The real-life and cartoon images combine for a pleasantly poppy vibe that in some ways feels as much a wry commentary on emoji culture as a mindless celebration of it.

The Instagram campaign is even more immediate. Pepsi teamed up with street photographer Daniel Arnold for a series of candid street shots that also integrate emojis.

See four of those images here:

There's a nice chaotic feel to Arnold's work, which is very welcome, as it tries to add some spontaneity to Pepsi's clearly hyper-calculated strategy of appropriating the language of youth to sell sugary drinks. "I was after clean, graphic, candid photos that immediately communicated a feeling or an idea—essentially candid emojis," Arnold said. 

The images are appearing on Arnold's Instagram first, before hitting Pepsi's pages. 

The scope of the broader campaign is staggering, and has a packaging element at its core. Pepsi created more than 600 proprietary PepsiMoji designs and is placing them on over 1 billion bottles and cans in 100 markets. They'll also appear everywhere from sunglasses (in a fashion collaboration with designer Jeremy Scott) to stadiums, as Pepsi seeks to have a "provocative and fresh take on the cultural phenomenon of emojis." 

In addition to the five-second spots, the campaign includes the three videos below—one called "Origins" (by agency Moondog) about how the designs found themselves in the world and on Pepsi packaging; and two others (by BBDO New York) that wordlessly follow young people backpacking and at a concert. (The lack of dialogue reinforces the "Say It With Pepsi" line, which is being used with the tagline, "Live for Now.") 

The video work has its moments, and the craft on the five-second spots is strong. But in the end, in a campaign that needs some grounding in the real world amid all its animation, it's the OOH and Instagram stuff that's provokes the biggest smiley face. 


—PepsiMoji Global Out of Home Credits

Photographer: Ben Watts

Creative Direction: Lloyd&Co

Art Direction: Caroline Cox

President, Managing Director: Jodi Sweetbaum

Senior Account Director: Shari Lewis

Account Manager: Taylor Backus

Art Buying: Kristen Beecy

Production Company: BaM Productions

Postproduction: Rachel Levine

Retouching: Ad Arts

—PepsiMoji Global Social Imagery Credits

Photographer: Daniel Arnold

Creative Direction: Lloyd&Co

Art Direction: Caroline Cox

President, Managing Director: Jodi Sweetbaum

Senior Account Director: Shari Lewis

Account Manager: Taylor Backus

Art Buying: Kristen Beecy

—PepsiMoji "Origins" Credits

Agency: Moondog

Chief Creative Officer: Pete Kakso

Creative Directors: Jeff Spangler, Michael Bernard

Brand Manager: Courtney Ryan Law

Strategy Director: Eric Druckenmiller

Production Company: Moondog Films

Director: Patrick McCarthy

Executive Producer: Rasha Clark

Retouching/ Animation: Moondog VFX

—PepsiMoji Global Tvc Credits

Agency: BBDO New York

Client: Pepsi

Titles: "Concert Connection," "Backpackers"

Client: PepsiCo

Senior Vice President, Global Brand Management: Carla Hassan

Senior Vice President, Global Brand Development: Kristin Patrick

Senior Marketing Director: Mark Kirkham

Agency: BBDO New York


Chief Creative Officer, Worldwide: David Lubars

Chief Creative Officer, New York: Greg Hahn 

Executive Vice President, Executive Creative Director: Lauren Connolly

Senior Creative Director: Niraj Zaveri

Senior Copywriter: Dana Stalker

Associate Creative Director: Rachel Frederick


Senior Vice President, Group Executive Producer: Julian Katz

Senior Content Producer: Sofia Doktori


Executive Vice President, Senior Director: Ladd Martin

Director: Lauren Munilla

Account Executive: Jillian Netzel

Assistant Account Executive: McCabe Galloway


Senior Vice President, Director of Music: Rani Vaz

Production (U.S.): Park Pictures

Director: Vincent Haycock

Executive Producers: Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Justin Pollock

Head of Production: Anne Bobroff

Line Producer: Tim Kerrison

First Assistant Director: Jeremy Robinson

Director of Photography: Niklas Johansson

Production Designer, Art Director: Quito Cooksey

Production Service Backpackers (CRO): Blue Sky Adriatic

Production Service Concert Connection (PAN): LCA Productions

Offline Edit: Cut + Run

Executive: Rana Martin

Producer: Ellese Jobin

Editor (Backpackers): Akiko Iwakawa

Editor (Concert Connection): Gary Knight

Visual Effects: Moving Picture Company

Executive Producer: Camila De Biaggi

Producer: Bindy St. Leger

Associate Producer: Aiste Akelaityte

Flame Artists: Jonathan McKee, Seif Boutella, Warren Paleos

Compositors: Elijah Lamond, Jeric Pimientel, Jesse Speer, Ting-Jung Hsu, Tamir Sapir, Victor Torres, Andrew Macfarlane, Hieu Phan

Computer Graphics: Vicky Osborn, Tiago Dias, Michael Nieves, Monica Manalo, Mike Lombardo, Chris Ribar, Angela Carafas, D. Venkatesan, Sivapriyan, Yashaswi Salandri, Manu PS, Mohan Pugaz, Prasad Vemula

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@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.