The Web in 2010; with Obama, Pepsi and some bananas

I’ve freshened up an old cadaver with a touch of lipstick on its withered lips and trundled the dusty horror out to dance for you:

For the record, I'm a Coca Cola guy.
For the record, I’m a Coca Cola guy.

If Coca Cola gave us Santa, then it could be argued that Pepsi gave us Barrack Obama.

“Pepsi has always stood for youthful exuberance and optimism, which is reflected in our new campaign like never before,” Pepsi spokeswoman Nicole Bradley once told ABC News: “We can’t speak to the president-elect’s design sensibilities, but we’re all over his prevailing spirit of optimism. That’s as refreshingly bipartisan as it gets.”

Back in December of 2008, around the time the votes were being counted, Pepsi commissioned a Pepsi Optimism Project (POP) survey, which concluded that so called Millennials (people born between 1980 and 1990) remained: “Confident and optimistic (despite) a failing economy, employment woes and countless other concerns.”

Pepsi’s new youthful and optimistic marketing campaign was a result of that survey, which found that 94 percent of young people have a positive outlook on the future. Beginning with this example it certainly looks like they’re looking to make themselves appear more open, authentic, transparent and believable; but does this mean an end to traditional advertising?

The God-hating Darwinist Richard Dawkins coined the term Meme in 1976 to describe the evolution of ideas and cultural phenomenon. The problem with the web 2.0 Meme is that it’s often used without actually knowing what the hell it means.

Just as in the dot-com boom, when all a company had to do was add an ‘e’ prefix and a ‘.com’ suffix to see its stock price soar, now we see Web 2.0 tagged as a buzzword, but why the distinction between Mark 2 and the original “bold, robust, effervescent magic taste” – to borrow Pepsi’s product line. Web 2.0 is an attitude, not a technology; it is rich, radical and a perpetual beta release.

Orville Schell, Dean of the University of California at Berkeley’s Journalism School once said: “The Roman Empire that was mass media is breaking up, and we are entering an almost-feudal period where there will be many more centres of power and influence.” Arguably the best place to begin talking about this process is the blogosphere.

Nobody really knows how many blogs are out there. Three to five years ago, there were probably tens of thousands – now there are millions. That seems to be the best guess really but Blogspot alone hosts 1.5 million bloggers.

With Web 1.0, a small group of people would publish and everyone else would go to the source to view that content. Now with web 2.0 the onus is on participation, on syndication – it is the common collaboration of folksonomy instead of the sterile classification of taxonomy.

But some such as notable author Andrew Keen believe that the democratisation of the web’s content by millions and millions of exuberant monkeys is creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity.

An unapologetic elitist he says that sites such as Wikipedia and you tube are unreliable and ultimately undermining of our culture. Time magazine disagrees, rewarding its 2006 Person of the year award to: “The millions of anonymous contributors of user-generated content to Wikipedia, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Second Life, the Linux operating system, and the multitudes of other websites featuring user contribution.” This they shortened to ‘You’, of course.

The rise of blogs does not mean the end of professional journalism – the media world is not a zero-sum game. It is said that the Internet is turning it into a symbiotic ecosystem where the different parts feed off one another and the whole thing grows.

This cult of the amateur – as Andrew Keen puts it – is not a place only of hacks, morons and paedophiles  If we all did as we were told and spoke only when spoken to then our culture would quickly shrivel. Everyone’s an amateur when they start out; after all, without sacrifice, we would have nothing.

This leads back to the evolution of ideas. Freedom of the press belongs to those who own a press, and blogging means practically anyone can. Liberating us from the uncertain terror of friend requests, twitter was created to be more like blogging, with readers paying attention to what they like and creators writing anything they want.

In the beginning nobody expected that people would follow strangers nor that celebrities and businesses would announce their activities to unrestricted followers. Twitter obliterates the line between confidant and audience. A leaked document from February 2009 states Twitter’s ambitions: “If we had a billion users, that will be the pulse of the planet.”

In 2013, it hopes to become the first Internet service to sign up 1 Billion users; Pepsi has over 20,000 followers; Barack Obama has way over 3 million – he’s top fourth in the world. Meanwhile, Facebook has more than 350 million active users; 50% of its active users log on in any given day.

It took just five years for Facebook to reach 150 million users – an amount it took 89 years for the humble telephone to stack up. Pepsi has almost 300,000 Facebook fans. And those YouTube amateurs beloved of Mr Keen, infatuated with their own ideas and dumbing down society – they’ve given Pepsi a half-million channel views; and it’s with these three services in particular that Pepsi has dug its heals into web 2.0

Is this big business’ way of getting back into our favour? If the corporations run the news and the politicians are lying to us about the terrorists that are melting the icecaps then who can we trust but ourselves. As I said before, Pepsi wants to  appear more open, authentic, transparent and believable.

We’re not consumers; we’re fans, followers, subscribers. This isn’t unsolicited junkmail, it’s not even a commercial with higher production values than most movies – it’s another silver lining to plug us into the cloud.

Or, as Mr Keen would put it: “Advertising or other insidious messages.” Or the realisation that people are becoming more and more interested in their emotional needs; and the fact is that a communicator must now address both the intellect and the heart.’

The theory of experience based communication tells us that companies and brands that recognize our worth as individuals, and who involve and interact with us seem credible and authentic. In turn, we as customers remain loyal to them.

It was in celebration of Barrack Obama’s inauguration that Pepsi launched a major web 2.0 event predominantly through YouTube. Dear Mr. President was promoted by celebrities voicing their well wishes and encouraging You, from the comfort of your chair, to do the same.

It allowed everyone with a webcam or the ability to send some form of message to give their feedback on the state of the American nation. By leveraging the theme of, ‘Freedom of Speech’ to ignite the peoples imagination and utilizing online media as open forum to commune with the most powerful man in the world, Pepsi did a pretty good job of pretending they weren’t just selling cola.

The shifting digital media landscape has created a cultural shift in the way that consumers and audiences engage – whether brands, movements or politics. Pepsi’s banner ad is a very innovative use of online media; it empowers the end user in a truly ground-breaking way and in doing so, hooks a new generation of consumers. At the time of the promotion, 14% of consumers who uploaded a video to YouTube did so through the Dear Mr. President banner.

It was a new and imaginative concept of product placement, a brand backing a brand and it didn’t even look like an advert. It worked because it recognized peoples worth as individuals. It was credible and authentic.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the new emerging generation of advertising that will capitalize on the personalization of the Web 2.0 experience. To provide very targeted advertising using contextual awareness, mobile platforms, personalized emails and instant messaging, together with social networking sites to reach intended and at times specialised audiences.

The ability to target effectively depends on technology that enables data collection, storage, and mining. Those resources will form the basis of the sophisticated advertising of the future. It is now up to the advertisers and service providers to leverage new user behaviour to create new revenue streams. The total online advertising market is predicted to eclipse $73 billion by 2012. Pine & Gilmore state that businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, the memory itself becoming the product – the “experience”.

Refresh – Pepsi’s new social investment campaign – is an excellent piece of viral marketing; they are perfectly placed within the trinity of Twitter, YouTube and Facebook and have the kudos and association from the Dear Mr President promotion. With the media infrastructure they have in place it wouldn’t take much to garner attention but Refresh seems to be a genuine attempt at doing something, well, nice. But only in the United States. For now.

Using money Pepsi has chosen not to spend on Super Bowl advertising, the Refresh project is a grants scheme providing millions of dollars to fund good ideas that make positive impacts in the community. Pepsi has up to $1.3 million in Refresh grants to give out every month, ranging from $5000 through to $250,000. They will give away $20 million in total.

Visitors to the site will be able to vote on ideas, with the first 32 awards being announced on March 1st. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t, but most sane people would agree it’s a better use of the cash than a 2 minute car commercial even if it that would be seen by a hundred or so million Americans.

It’s a nice piece of non-offensive global marketing; and here’s another: A press release from last week says that PepsiCo Foundation are to donate $1 Million for humanitarian relief to Haiti Earthquake Victims; the company also to provide bottled water, Gatorade and Quaker products.

By embracing Web 2.0 trends like it has, Pepsi also puts itself in the firing line of everyone else using those applications. All those monkeys that aren’t journalists, they can throw their ignorant bananas and Pepsi pretty much has to smile and take it; but in this emerging experience economy, where real social change is being set in motion, a business such as theirs has no choice but to do exactly what it’s doing.

It’s a business strategy like this that does not need to pander to specific horizons and cultural backgrounds. It’s undoubtedly just as merciless a polluter, and just as unethical a corporation, as any other you’d care to mention; but until a blogger gets hold of some naughty photographs, Pepsi is a savvy company, and it’s doing all that it can with bells on.

In the end, your brand is what others say about you.

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