Interview

"We're living in a world of the unknown" - just-drinks speaks to Umi Patel, CMO for PepsiCo Beverages North America north division

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After a North American summer in which PepsiCo shelved its entire marketing strategy, the soft drinks & snacks giant is getting back on track in time for the new NFL season. Sporting calendars have faced unprecedented disruption, and NFL players are returning to empty stadiums with the real possibility the 2020-21 season may not make it all the way to next February's SuperBowl. Amid the uncertainty, PepsiCo - which has sponsored the NFL through the Pepsi brand since 2002 - has launched a campaign that targets consumers watching from their front rooms instead of in the stadium or at a tailgate party. The activation also follows a structural overhaul last year at PepsiCo Beverages North America that created four regional hubs, giving marketing teams a brief to build "hyper-localised" programming. Yesterday, just-drinks spoke to Umi Patel, CMO for PBNA's north division, about tailoring experiences for fans of different teams, why PepsiCo is front-loading its marketing spend and the enduring appeal of the fan can.

PepsiCo launched a national NFL campaign in the US last month

PepsiCo launched a national NFL campaign in the US last month

just-drinks: PepsiCo has already unveiled its national NFL campaign, called 'Made for Football Watching'. What has your team done to localise this content for your region?

Umi Patel, CMO for PepsiCo Beverages North America north division:  There are a few examples. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady - one of the longest-playing quarterbacks - he's no longer going to be with them this year. That's a big deal for the Patriots fans. The Patriots also have a new jersey design this year, the first for a long time. A lot of Patriot fans owned a Tom Brady jersey but now want to upgrade with the new gear, so we're giving away jerseys every day within the market, tapping into things that are relevant for consumers there. Another example is the Buffalo Bills in New York. The Bills fans are well known for tailgating - these fans tailgate like insane. But, a lot of people aren't going to be able to do that this year because the stadium is closed. Instead, we're bringing the tailgate to Bills fans in neighbourhoods all around Buffalo.

j-d: When COVID hit ,did you have to go back to the start on your marketing plans?

UP: A lot of our NFL activation was at the stadium. But, we found we were leaving a lot of consumers on the table. There's a lot of consumers that go to games, but there are also a lot of consumers that watch football at home, even during a non-pandemic year. So, what we were able to do was broaden our plans. We're taking the experiences that you would have in the stadium to people at home.

j-d: Have you increased marketing investment?

UP: Our marketing spend is higher this year at a local level than it was in previous years. We're increasing our spend knowing that consumers are at home and that we want to target them. We've also uploaded the front half of our spend for the NFL season - it's pretty much all in the first six weeks. Hopefully, COVID doesn't cause any schedule changes to NFL. But, we also know there's a risk, so we've uploaded a lot of our media investment at a local level as well.

j-d: Have you made contingency plans in case the season is cut short?

UP: We hope that doesn't happen, but we're living in a world of the unknown. Our contingency plan is, we're going to continue to support American Football and, if for some reason the season is cancelled, we're still going to celebrate Pepsi and people gathering together. The association with food is critical, so we're going to continue to celebrate the role that Pepsi plays with food and friends.

Umi Patel, CMO for PepsiCo Beverages North America's north division

Umi Patel, CMO for PepsiCo Beverages North America's north division

j-d: What about the Super Bowl [PepsiCo sponsors the half-time show at the NFL season finale]?

UP: We're starting the discussions around that. At the moment, the plan is that the Super Bowl will happen as scheduled. We haven't heard otherwise. We're starting the discussions around what the contingency could look like for that. I would say that's very much still a work in progress.

j-d: What long-term lessons will you take from this?

UP: Agility was always important. Consumers shift what they're thinking about and what's important to them on a regular basis. That has been more prevalent this year than ever before. One minute, it was all about the pandemic and coronavirus, then along comes something else that you were not expecting.

j-d: You're using digital activations and social media more than ever, but there still seems to be a big place for the team-specific Pepsi cans. Surely putting a team's logo on a can is one of the oldest tricks in the sports marketing book, yet it continues to be a big part of the NFL campaign. Do fans still demand them?

UP: It's actually extremely popular because the way people are consuming the product has completely shifted. The channel dynamics are that people are buying a lot more product to consume at home versus in the past. As a result, some of the old tricks are important. But, adding some of the newer, more engaging techniques is also critical.

Click here for just-drinks' commentary on the global soft drinks industry


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