The new Pepsi can and old marketing orthodoxy

Pepsi_logos_thanks_to_beene We learned today that the Pepsi can is changing.  Cie Nicholson, Pepsi’s chief marketing officer, says the Pepsi can will now change every 3 to 4 weeks.  There will be 35 new designs this year, with more to come next.

The Wall Street Journal speculates that the new designs will help Pepsi "connect with the sort attention span of teens and young adults."  And this is partly right.  Attention spans are now brief.  Familiarity comes faster.  Boredom descends ever more quickly. 

But the more pressing issue is sustaining Pepsi’s brand visibility in a turbulent culture.  Stillness and consistency were once a virtue. The old style marketers insisted on keeping things simple and repeating themselves endlessly.  Sameness was the name of the game.

New school marketing says the brand must meet change with change.  It must stream with dynamism to stay in touch with dynamism.  Thirty-five designs in a year.  This is precisely what the new school of marketing has in mind. 

The new can will help.  But by itself it is not enough.  Pepsi is going to have to build in dynamic tastes.  Now this really contradicts marketing orthodoxy, but I am prepared to wager that Pepsi will be varying its formula by the end of the decade. 

The old marketing is built into the big brands so deeply that it is almost impossible to see.  This is the challenge for the brand stewards inside the corporation, inside the agency, inside the consulting world.  How quickly can we change?   And how many of the now great brands will end up pulled down to the ocean floor by the weight of orthodoxy.

You think I’m kidding.  Pepsi lives in a declining category and it is still possible for the WSJ to offer this risk analysis:

By changing designs so frequently, Pepsi runs the risk of confusing or alienating consumers who rely on familiar visual cues to find their favorite brands among a change sea of products, some marketing experts say. 

Ah, if only doing nothing were still an option


McKay, Betsy.  2007. Pepsi’s New Marketing Dance: Can Can.  The Wall Street Journal.  January 12, 2007.


Thanks to Gary Beene for the image.  For his excellent website on Pepsi history go here

8 thoughts on “The new Pepsi can and old marketing orthodoxy

  1. grant

    They’re already doing the flavor thing: they just keep the original flavors too. I don’t think changing the base flavors is going to be a good route. I can taste the flavor between batches. When they cook up a cruddy batch it pisses me off: if they were changing flavors all the time I’d lose this super power; I’d have no time to build up a baseline.

    In the last year or so Pepsi has come out with 3-6 new flavors (almost all of a 0 calorie nature). Most of them taste like cough syrup, though, after you drink them for a few weeks.

  2. DC1974

    Are people that brand loyal to cola anymore? I think Coke benefits from the number of fast food outlets that carry their product. I by RC cola more often than anything. (It’s only 99-cents for 2-liter jug.) And I also tend to buy based on the container. I will swear up and down that Coke tastes better in a bottle (or 2-liter jug) while Pepsi tastes better in a can. Coke in a can? Not good. Perhaps changing the can design is designed to attract my inconsistent taste.

  3. Richard

    As a package designer my traditional argument to clients has been that the package should be the last thing to change. It is normally the only “real” thing that consumers come personally in contact with and as such, is the only “true” identity of the brand. I have argued that change should come slowly and it should be combined with a fundamental repositioning. Especially in a category like colas where the package, not technology, innovation or true product uniqueness, is a key differentiator. I admit that this notion may or may not still be valid, and the Pepsi experiment will be fun to watch.

    Throughout my 30 year career, I have watched with interest as the frequency of change has increased with all other elements of brand identity; advertising, in-store marketing, promotional support, online and web positioning, etc. Again this has tended to support the idea that the package is the one anchor for most packaged consumer products. This notion of package as brand icon may be less true for products that are merely protected by a package at retail, such as the Apple Ipod, a Duracell battery, or maybe even an egg, but for products that consumers touch and feel, and the product is actually dispensed from, like a can of Pepsi, I have thought that change should come slowly.

    Our industry should certainly be willing and perhaps even anxious to see if this core belief will be threatened by these experiments that Pepsi, and likely others, will make in the next few years. When traditional consumer product brands are increasingly in the hands of consumers and Google to define, with marketers merely along for the ride, do they gain or loose by trying to be ahead of this trend?

    I have begun to think of these things in terms of the arrow and the target. The question is becoming which is the target and which is the arrow, which is fixed and which is moving, the brand or the consumer. Traditional thinking would suggest that the consumer is the fixed target and the brand is the moving arrow, point it in the right direction and you win. But maybe they are now both in motion, and now the consumer is the arrow and brands are the target. If that is becoming the case, brands will need to begin moving their bullseye around looking for consumer arrows. Maybe Pepsi is on to something, maybe it’s just bull.

  4. Matt Devlin

    When I first read your post, distracted by your nice graphic, I understood that Pepsi was planning to change their logo every two weeks. Having re-read the post I realise that it’s nothing nearly as exciting. Seasonal, celebrity, event and tactical cans have been around for ages. I’m not sure this is really new school marketing – more likely something new that the marketing orthodoxy are comfortable with.

    I’m sure there are all kinds of reasons why Pepsi wouldn’t choose to change their logo every two weeks – but wouldn’t be interesting if they did?

  5. Sean Miller

    This reminds me of Madonna. She has changed many times over the years, and has managed to stay contemporary. Only in this case it’s more like wardrobe changes rather than complete makeovers.

    Let’s not forget the Millennial generation is reared on shape-shifting technology and to them the brief shelf life of content is second nature. Same goes for brands. I think it’s an extension of a familiar language for them; new campaigns, new products, new ideas all the time.

    I think the real question is whether Pepsi is drifting from its equity as they do this… it doesn’t look like it to me. The article says:

    “The cans will retain some similar design elements … all are still blue and have the familiar Pepsi globe logo.”

    I haven’t seen the designs yet, but let’s hope their not generic and devoid of actual ideas. At its best, this may become what Molson, Perrier, Heinz and Snickers have done with their packaging in the last year or so – using thier familiar logo space as a place to have some fun.

  6. Mark Bellinghaus

    I always like the taste of Pepsi, when I grew up I preferred this product over other soft drinks, but since I realized the ugly methods of a person who is so powerful in this company which is called PepsiCo of North America, I will definitely rethink my own taste and history.
    Did Pepsi knowingly support the biggest exhibition fraud in history?
    Why did Pepsi not sue when we debunked and exposed the fakes on a ship of fools, why was Pepsi still involved for SEVEN LONG months in a project which defrauded a non profit organization which supports little orphans, needy kids and families which also need support?!
    Why? Because Cie Nicholson, 43, did her colleague and friend Mark A. Roesler, 52, yes the caught criminal who has pranked the public with his $8.75 million lie–printed in the LA TIMES (!)
    For the ones who would like to look into more details about this Pepsi Scandal:

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