Pepsi found that Millennials were turning their back on carbonated beverages and becoming more difficult to reach via traditional media¬. Pepsi’s college and university (C&U) accounts were especially taking a hit.
To win over college students, Pepsi and agency PGW Experience steered clear of the near-ubiquitous flashy digital promotions—partly because of budget limitations and partly because research showed that young adults sought unexpected, “authentic” experiences. Instead, at major campus events they created sampling opportunities around “throwback challenges”: contests such as pie-eating races, freeze dancing, Hula Hooping, and speaking pig latin. After sampling a beverage, students would look at the bottom of their empty cup: Some saw a message notifying them that they’d won a prize; others were tasked with taking part in one of the challenges.
Posting on social media was a critical part of winning each contest. To win the worm race, for instance, not only did the contestant have to be the first across the finish line but he also had to post a selfie on Facebook, Instagram, or another social channel. This helped spread the word about the campaign while saving Pepsi the expense of setting up costly digital-enabled kiosks.
Pepsi took its challenges to 40 campus events, engaging with more than 100,000 attendees. The events generated more than 1 million onsite brand impressions and another million-plus social impressions. The old-school contests also resulted in plenty of new sales, with on-campus retailers average a 68% increase in sales, far above the goal of a 25% lift. What’s more, even stores near campuses saw sales rise 45%. Overall ROI on the campaign was valued at more than twice the program’s cost, which even the lowliest Econ 101 student could tell you was a good deal.