Pepsi Taste Challenge exceeds targets

After a 10-year hiatus, the retail- and event-based campaign drove up market share over its summer and September run.

Pepsi’s iconic Taste Challenge – a touring sampling program that invites folks to choose between masked Pepsi and Coca-Cola drinks – just capped off its successful summer run, the first for the brand in 10 years.

This year, with supporting creative by BBDO, the challenge received a digital boost with the introduction of Microsoft and Samsung’s surface technology, which responds to touch and can be connected to social media. Taste testers were given Pepsi and a rival cola in two clear glasses placed on the screen’s surface. The winning cola was revealed on a screen via a barcode on the bottom of the glass. Results could then be shared over social media channels, while brand ambassadors uploaded video and images to the company’s Facebook page.

Hundreds of thousands of consumers participated, spending an average of seven minutes face-to-face with Pepsi reps. “We ended up delivering less challenges than we wanted to,” says Robb Hadley, director of enjoyment and transformation, responsible for Pepsi’s carbonated soft-drink marketing. “Part of that was driven by the fact that we added technology and consumers were so engaged that doing the challenge took longer.”

The last time the challenge took place was in 2002, two years before Facebook was created. Hadley says they decided to bring the challenge back, refocusing creative on the preferred taste of Pepsi to drive sales.

“We had been doing great engagement work with things like the Pepsi Refresh project, but we found that taste not only drives brand preference, but it drives category growth, and we needed to get back to where we were competitively advantaged,” he says. “We felt it was time to bring back the challenge and do it in a way that was up to date and involved in social media.”

The result was a share win over Coca-Cola for three of the four months the campaign ran, he says. “For Pepsi to win three of four share periods in an Olympic year [of which Coca-Cola was a sponsor], for us it’s a great indicator that the Ultimate Taste Challenge delivered the business results we were looking for.”

The campaign also drove up digital engagement beyond targets, including almost 19 million earned digital and social media impressions, 130,000 new Facebook fans and more than 25 million PR impressions (which includes blogs and digital news sources, as well as traditional media).

This year, Pepsi also boosted its in-store presence, hitting up 300 retailers and driving up sales in the double digits percentage-wise at participating stores.

“At the end of the day, executing in retail is not the same as executing on Canada Day,” he says. “The actual consumer volume is lower, but the advantage is once they’ve done the challenge and they’ve decided they prefer Pepsi, they’re able to act immediately.”