PepsiCo’s Super Bowl transformation: From sponsoring a stage to putting brands in the spotlight

Ross Cameron, head of planning at VCCP, explores how Pepsi has revolutionised the marketing landscape during Super Bowl LVIII

By Ross Cameron

PepsiCo's strategic shift from Super Bowl sponsor to the main attraction of the halftime show has been an incredible journey to witness. Now, having passed the mic to Apple Music on the mid-game extravaganza, its new brand experience play is just as compelling to watch.

Whilst some brands talk the talk of populating culture, PepsiCo have certainly walked the walk over the years, successfully capturing the attention of audiences across the globe with their innovative approach to advertising.

As the anticipation for this weekend’s Super Bowl LVIII builds, the excitement as always extends beyond the game itself to the eagerly awaited lineup of adverts set to grace our screens. In the fiercely competitive arena of advertising, Super Bowl commercials hold sway, with brands clamouring for attention during the pinnacle event of the year.

Yet Pepsi long chose a distinct path, strategically positioning itself as the focal point of the halftime show for an impressive decade, spanning from 2013 to the Emmy award-winning final bow in 2022. Each year brought forth iconic moments that resonated deeply with audiences, leaving an indelible mark on the cultural zeitgeist.

From Beyoncé's commanding presence in 2016 to the vibrant celebration of Latin culture by Shakira and Jennifer Lopez in 2020, Pepsi's collaborations with top-tier talent became the highlight of the halftime spectacle. Not to be forgotten are the dynamic performances by Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and that kiss shared between Madonna and Britney Spears - all of which became cultural touchstones, sparking conversations globally. Pepsi often won the Twitter Bowl to boot.

Yet, amidst the acclaim, a pertinent question arose: were audiences truly engaging with the Pepsi brand or merely indulging in the chatter-generating sponsored entertainment?

Last year saw PepsiCo take a bold departure from convention, stepping away from the halftime musical act in a strategic pivot which left many pondering its return to the Super Bowl spotlight.

This year, PepsiCo has revolutionised the marketing landscape by positioning its brands as leaders in shaping cultural influence. Set against the vibrant backdrop of Las Vegas, Pepsi and Doritos have ingeniously leveraged their distinctive brands assets to craft immersive brand experiences.

Pepsi commandeered the renowned Sphere, joining forces with TikTok sensation Zach King to create a captivating magic trick, transforming it into a drinkable billboard. Meanwhile, Doritos capitalised on their distinctive triangular shape, transforming the Luxor casino into a colossal Dorito chip. These outsized activities signify a deliberate departure from traditional halftime show sponsorship and conventional advertising towards a focus on brand-centric experiences.

This innovative approach signifies a fusion of creativity against the vibrant tapestry of Las Vegas. By intertwining its narrative with the essence of the city itself, PepsiCo has crafted enduring impressions that extend far beyond Super Bowl week.

The resonant message echoing through PepsiCo's Super Bowl campaign this year is unequivocal. As Todd Kaplan (CMO Pepsi) said: "what happens in Vegas won't stay in Vegas." This encapsulates a transition from being a mere logo on stage to orchestrating enduring cultural moments that celebrate their brand’s distinctive assets.

By applying an editorial lens to the event, they create a mini campaign in and of itself. While other brands tease and talk up their commercials, Pepsi’s goal is not coverage of the marketing itself but to extend storytelling around the Super Bowl to showcase Pepsi as an entertainment brand consumers want to engage with.

In essence, PepsiCo's reinvention of the way it shows up at Super Bowl represents a triumph of creativity that truly populates culture. By prioritising distinctive brand assets and experiences over conventional ads, PepsiCo has cemented its status as a trailblazer in shaping the Super Bowl narrative. It stands as a testament to the power of forward-thinking strategies and embracing change in the dynamic arena of advertising.

Here's to PepsiCo for shining the spotlight on its brands and delivering a performance to remember.

Ross Cameron is the head of planning at VCCP


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