New Pepsi taste challenge brings tech to its Coke rivalry

The iconic grassroots campaign is back for the summer with high-tech and social features.

The Pepsi Taste Challenge, an iconic grassroots campaign that first debuted almost 40 years ago, is back with some new and improved features – and this time it’s going high-tech and social. The brand has accomplished nine million taste tests in the last 36 years, but this summer will see 1.5 million challenges take place across Canada with regular Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Pepsi Max.

The 2012 edition of the Pepsi Ultimate Taste Challenge is touring the country in a big rig truck that transforms into a tasting station hitting major festivals across Canada. Mobile teams are also covering massive ground to bring the challenge to 1,000 events coast-to-coast over the summer.

This year, Pepsi is bringing cutting-edge technology to the marketing initiative by being the first brand in Canada to implement Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface – a device that sees and responds to touch and objects on a 40-inch, high-definition, multi-touch screen. Taste testers are given Pepsi and a rival cola in two clear glasses placed on the screen’s surface. The winning cola is revealed on a screen via a bar code on the bottom of the glass. “Traditionally, we used to cover up the cola packaging during the taste challenge,” says Robb Hadley, director of marketing, PepsiCo Beverages Canada. “By eliminating that we are truly giving consumers an authentic taste test experience.”

Targeting millennials, the campaign is amplified through social media. “Taste challenge ambassadors are equipped with web-enabled phones and tablets that capture video and images for Pepsi’s Facebook page,” says Hadley, who adds that interactive updates showcase real-time challenge results, schedules of upcoming sampling events and an online game where consumers can compete in daily challenges for their chance to win weekly prizes.

Heralding the Pepsi Ultimate Taste Challenge’s return are two TV commercials depicting cola drinkers converting to Pepsi. With creative from BBDO Toronto, the first spot called “Earl 2.0” debuted during the 2012 Billboard Music Awards in May. “The ad features a Coca-Cola truck driver getting stranded on the side of the road,” says Hadley. “He is offered a ride by the Pepsi Ultimate Taste Challenge team and after accepting, he decides to try a forbidden Pepsi beverage and enjoys it so much he ends up getting a Pepsi tattoo.” (Ed. note: Long live the cola wars.)