If you track Social Media news, I'm sure you saw the eye-catching headline: "Pepsi's Big Gamble: Ditching Super Bowl for Social Media".  For the first time in 23 years–23 years!–the brand will not be purchasing a Super Bowl spot.  Instead, it is sinking $20M into a Social Media program called Pepsi Refresh. The Pepsi Refresh site will allow people to vote for worthwhile community projects, and Pepsi expects to sponsor thousands of local efforts via this program.

What does this news mean to marketers?  Some potential ramifications (and non-ramifications) include:

  • No, this doesn't mean TV is going away, but it will be fighting for marketing dollars on an increasingly level playing field with Social and Interactive tactics.  Despite the meltdown in traditional media, TV advertising will continue to be a big line item in the marketing budget for top consumer brands, but expect it to continue to shrink as a portion of the overall marketing budget.  Shar VanBoskirk said it well:  "Advertising budgets will decline. But marketing investments won't."  Moreover, as Lisa Bradner points out in her report, Adaptive Brand Marketing, the era of annual TV budgets is ending.  Expect more iterative budget setting based on "test and learn" cycles where the best and most successful ideas can quickly command more funding regardless of channel.   
  • Social Media programs don't begin and end with Social Media:  There can be a mistaken assumption that Social Media Marketing means brands being on Twitter and Facebook.  As the Pepsi program demonstrates, Social Media is the means to an end, and not the end itself. 
    It doesn't matter that you have followers, fans, or a community; those are assets, not return.  It is how you use those assets that matters.  In Pepsi's case, they've clearly found a way to gain new followers and fans, but that's not the objective of the program; instead, the brand is putting Social Media to work for a higher goal–making the world a better place and associating the brand with that vision.  
  • Social Media measurement = brand measurement:  Do you think Pepsi is going to measure the effectiveness of this program merely by how many fans or page views they get?  They may count retweets, but what are the chances the $20M investment will be evaluated based upon 140-character pass-alongs? 
    The success of this program won't be measured primarily with Social Media metrics (fans, followers, RTs, votes, etc.) but on traditional brand and marketing metrics.  How much PR does Pepsi earn from the program and the funding of thousands of community projects?  How many people hear about the program, and how does it affect their purchase intent for the brand?  How many points increase does Pepsi see when it asks questions such as, "Pepsi is a brand that cares about me and my community?" and "Pepsi is a brand I'd recommend to friends?"  Does the brand see a lift in sales?  Those are the types of metrics that matter in this (or most every other) marketing program.  My peer Nate Elliot points out that you must "choose metrics based on objectives rather than technologies."  
  • Another nail in the coffin of merely likable advertising.  Super Bowl advertising has become its own kind of sport.  Shortly after the big game, the scoreboard goes up (USA Today's Ad Meter) and the winning team does an end zone victory dance (agency press releases bragging about the results).  All this hullabaloo implies that ads are entertainment and likability is all that matters, but it is just one element–and hardly the most important–in effective advertising. 
    Pepsi's actions demonstrate a commitment to something deeper than jokey ads.  Pepsi is betting the brand can win by making a deeper connection (consumer involvement versus seeing an ad) for a greater purpose (making the world a better place versus a laugh at the end of a 30-second spot.)   As my online friend Brandon Sutton recently wrote on his blog, "Instead of trying to get clever with your messaging, why not try thinking smarter by understanding how humans think and behave and how your brand fits into the bigger picture of this dynamic?"
  • Social Media changes everything.  Social Media alters the playing field for everyone within the enterprise; formerly successful strategies and tactics are being challenged, while old and tired methodologies are getting new legs.  For example, Best Buy is using Social Media to improve its customer support in new ways;  Starbucks is embracing consumers' ideas and driving innovation and loyalty; and, as we see, Pepsi is using Social Media to give new energy to cause marketing.
    Cause marketing is hardly new, but Social Media gives brands the ability to power it in new ways.  Previously, cause marketing tended to be about a company making a donation and leveraging that for PR, advertising and in-bound links. Today, cause marketing can be about embracing customers' values and ideas about how to spend charitable dollars and then energizing consumers and employees to get involved and make a difference.  Social Media offers us new ways to breathe life into this old marketing idea!

Early next year we'll find out how Pepsi's decision to trade the Super Bowl for Social Media plays out, but it's already earned the brand enormous visibility. Articles about their decision can be found on ABC, CNN,NPR, ReutersAP, Wall Street Journal, and others.  Of course, the first brand to dump Super Bowl advertising in place of Social Media marketing will earn headlines; the fifth brand to do so will not.

So, how are you going to use Social Media to give old tactics and strategies new life in 2010?