Ypulse Guest Post: No You Can't…Pepsi!

Today’s Ypulse Guest Post is from Elsa Brown, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at our Boston Ypulse Youth Marketing Mashup event. She is also heroically undertaking a Ypulse video internship that involves editing raw footage from our Tween Mashup last year (Yay!).

Elsa isn’t buying Pepsi’s use of Obama symbolism in its new campaign and doesn’t think others in her generation will either. If you work in youth media or marketing, and would like to write a Ypulse Guest Post, just email me.

No You Can’t…Pepsi!

Pepsi logoFrom the moment I saw the red, white and blue balls bouncing across the screen, I knew that Obama was the inspiration behind Pepsi’s “Word Play” TV ad.  Pepsi’s subsequent campaign became more than just a tip-of-the-hat towards our nation’s new President. From a YouTube channel devoted to user-generated video requests for the Pres, to an overwhelming presence at the Inauguration, Pepsi transparently piggybacked on all the enthusiasm and optimism Obama has inspired.  But can young people’s hope for the nation’s future be sublimated into passion for Pepsi?  I have my doubts, and here’s why.

The Dear Mr. President/YouTube element of the campaign offered a personalized way of interacting with Obama, yet this was nothing new.  From Twitter to the Transition Team Project at change.gov, accessibility was built into Obama’s campaign from the beginning, and it stuck all the way through. When Pepsi attempted to offer a new experience of interaction, many of us passed because we’d been interacting all along.

Similarly, Pepsi used celebrities in their online ads to evoke unity, excitement and well… celebrity.  Yet while Will.i.am appears in the ads, he made his more authentic “Yes We Can” video months ago, and we all watched it on YouTube long before Pepsi intervened.  The energy generated by Obama’s campaign was special and real, and it inspired so much participation and content creation organically that Pepsi’s schemes feel forced in comparison.
What I see as Pepsi’s greatest falter took shape at the Inauguration, when Obama shifted gears.  In his address, Obama distanced himself from the “Yes We Can” message and struck a somber note as he got serious about difficulties facing the nation.  In that moment, Obama reinvented his message and unveiled a more mature presidential persona, and Pepsi’s JOY and YES YOU CAN became instant anachronisms: silly reminders of the brand’s attempts to imitate without substance.

For more coverage of youth marketing, check out the Ypulse Youth Marketing Channel sponsored by Youth Marketing Connection.

About Elsa:

Elsa BrownElsa Brown is serving for a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Teen Voices.  She graduated from Hampshire College in 2007 and enjoys gathering and sharing information on the internet.  For more info, visit her recently launched blog, sweetmeat.


  1. Paula

    Elsa, I hope Pepsi and other brands are listening.  It’s been long overdue for brands to change how they market from the contrived to the real. Your post puts them on notice - piggybackers beware.

  2. Rebecca

    On a related note Starbucks got it right.

    Yes, they used the timing of the inauguration and Obama’s (updated) message of everyone doing their part to get the U.S. back on its feet, but they took it a key step further that Pepsi missed.  Starbucks provided a venue for everyone to get involved.  You go into your local Starbucks and sign up for a volunter effort.

    And of course, ‘Bucks gives you a free cup ‘o joe for your effort.  Smart marketing that doesn’t insult the consumer (or the President).

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