Pepsi’s Refresh Project Will be Key to Its Messaging in 2011

Today, Pepsi announced the guidelines for the 2011 iteration of the Pepsi Refresh Project. Among the changes, there are four grant tiers – $5k, $10K, $25K and $50K – with the $250,000 level eliminated; there will be more opportunities for voting; and four categories: arts and music, communities, education, and the Pepsi Challenge, which Pepsi will propose each month starting April 1.

Despite the millions that have been distributed for various causes through the program, Shiv Singh, the head of digital for PepsiCo Beverages America told the New York Times, “This was not a corporate philanthropy effort.” Rather, “It was designed to drive brand health.” This program has even been chosen over advertising in the Super Bowl.

It seems like a lot of effort for an awareness campaign. We spoke with Ana Maria Irazabal, Pepsi-Cola North American beverage director of marketing, for more info.

“The first step was brand awareness,” Irazabal told us. “Sales will increase in the long-term.”

Pepsi Refresh is a “common platform for like-minded people to come together,” she continued. To that end, rather than measuring the success of the program heretofore with just dollars and cents, other things like engagement (the number of people voting, for instance) were tracked. Mashable reported in September that the Project had gotten more votes than the last presidential election.

“When people choose Pepsi, they’re choosing the Pepsi Refresh Project,” said Irazabel. “That’s the message going forward.”

Advertising on the Super Bowl, with its famously high-priced spots, wouldn’t be the right venue for a charitable message, Irazabel added. “How could we claim authenticity?” she asked. Instead, the focus is on “how do you bring the brand message from words to action.”

Still, there have been questions about the fairness of the program and the voting system, which is why, Irazabal says the $250,000 category has been eliminated.

“We want small communities to be able to leverage their network,” she said.

Leveraging communities through social media is the foundation of the Project.

“You need the passion to ask for supporters, but you need the right tools to reach them,” said Irazabal.