Don’t look for the Phoenix skyline in Pepsi’s Super Bowl commercial. Look for the desert.
Pepsi’s highly anticipated Super Bowl commercial — which will directly lead into the halftime show that it sponsors starring Katy Perry — is set in the desert and is littered with visual “surprises” of desert scenery and desert activity, says Lou Arbetter, senior director of marketing at Pepsi.
“Strange things happen in the desert,” says Arbetter, in a phone interview about Pepsi’s broader Super Bowl marketing plans. “That’s the basis of the spot.” Officials declined to discuss more details of the 30-second commercial which, they say, will not be publicly revealed until it airs right before the 12-minute halftime show.
For Pepsi — and archrival Coke — Super Bowl advertising and marketing is all about trying to stay culturally relevant.
“The Pepsi brand has been associated with these kinds of cultural moments since Michael Jackson moonwalked,” says Arbetter. “This is our sweet spot.”
But in a nation that’s increasingly losing its taste for carbonated soft drinks, it’s getting harder and hard for the cola brands to stay relevant. For the first nine months of 2014 — the most recent figures available — Coke volume was up 1.1%, but Diet Coke was down 6.8%, Pepsi was down 2.3%, and Diet Pepsi was down 4.7%, reports Beverage Digest, the industry trade publication.
This year, with Super Bowl advertising at a record $4.5 million per 30-second slot, advertisers are pushing harder than ever to hype their brands and promote social media buzz.
For Pepsi, which has a long history of sponsoring Super Bowl halftime shows, the Super Bowl investment is all about brand halo. “There are some events, like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, that are important for advertising and marketing brands,” says John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest. ” I doubt that the direct, immediate impact on sales can be measured, but those kinds of events enhance brand equity and brand appeal.”
Pepsi’s Super Bowl reach has tentacles that stretch far beyond Game Day.
PepsiCo has been pushing out Super Bowl-related content since November — via digital, social media, TV and in-person events. In late November, on an aircraft carrier near Corpus Christi, Texas, it hosted a freebie concert mostly for veterans, starring country music singer Blake Shelton. More recently, it sponsored a “Hype Your Hometown” concert in Rochester, N.Y. Last weekend, it challenged top students at the Culinary Institute of America to create dishes that combine PepsiCo food and beverage products. And its iconic blue billboards are showing up all over the Phoenix area.
But the pinnacle will be its desert-set Super Bowl ad itself. The desert as a setting has shown up in past Super Bowl spots — including a 2013 Coca-Cola commercial that featured unlikely teams of cowboys, soldiers and chorus girls all racing each other in the desert for a Coke.
Last year, when the Super Bowl was played in East Rutherford, N.J, just outside New York City, Pepsi introduced the Bruno Mars halftime show that it sponsored with a 30-second ad featuring the iconic New York skyline being cleverly manipulated by a pair of giant hands. “We are embracing the hometown again. But not many folks recognize the skyline of Phoenix,” says Arbetter. “So we needed a different way in.”
That way: the desert.
But don’t look for stereotypical desert situations, says Arbetter. Instead, he says, the images will build excitement and suspense for the halftime show. “Think of things like Area 51,” he says, in reference to the restricted area operated by the Air Force in the Nevada desert that is commonly linked with the sighting of UFOs.
Coca-Cola officials declined, for the moment, to discuss the brand’s 2015 Super Bowl commercial.