We are in the Bund, a waterfront area in central Shanghai, with views of the city’s landmark buildings across the Huangpu River from Bar Rouge’s seventh-floor terrace. We are talking to Richard Lee, Chief Marketing Officer of PepsiCo China Ltd. Over drinks at this popular nightlife spot, he has been telling us about ‘Create for Thirst’, Pepsi’s ambitious idea for transforming the brand to keep pace with a rapidly changing consumer landscape.
Thirst means two things for Pepsi. As a beverage company, it supplies a refreshing product to quench the thirst of its young, active consumers. But it has also taken the idea a step further to mean a thirst to create a better life.
“It’s safe to say that digital media is huge in China,” Richard says. “Young people in particular use it on a daily basis to create a presence or identity online – through websites, blogs, forums and so on – as well as to express themselves. We found a purpose for the Pepsi brand in enabling young people to create, but we also wanted to find a way to turn our brand purpose into a competitive advantage.”
Pepsi decided to develop an online platform. Joining forces with Tmall, the global leader in e-commerce, it launched Pepsitmall.com.
“Are you adding to your core business then?” I ask.
“More than that, we’re expanding the brand’s relevance,” says Richard. “Pepsi has become a way of life and Pepsitmall has become a destination.”
He tells us about the success the platform has enjoyed, despite only being live for a few months. “Tmall is a store and our alliance with them means we can already offer our consumers more than 50 big-name and up-and-coming brands. Pepsitmall.com, on the other hand, is about stories. We also highlight the people behind the brands – those who are creating better products and a better world.”
Part of the platform’s storytelling journey is its annual award given to the most creative young designers and entrepreneurs. The first year celebrated 108 original heroes, selected by Pepsi and voted for by consumers, who were profiled and promoted on the site.
I look at the tables around us, which are filling up with young people enjoying early evening drinks. “Shopping – even online – can be thirsty work,” I say. “How does the mall cater to those who are in need of a cold Pepsi after some retail therapy?
“We’ve thought of that!” Richard laughs. “The Pepsi Gourmet Paradise section of the platform offers free dishes and meal deals – washed down with a Pepsi, of course – in thousands of restaurants. There’s even an integrated search engine to find the best restaurant closest to you. It’s true that you have to leave the house to benefit from this part of the Pepsitmall experience, but we see it as the ideal combination of on- and off-line activations.”
He gets out his mobile phone. “What’s even better, in the age of mobile internet, is that I can enjoy a discount meal at a Pepsi partner restaurant and still be able to check out what’s new on Pepsitmall.”
He navigates to the website’s homepage and translates some of the Chinese characters for us. “We sell original items that aren’t available anywhere else and we launch cool new products that match our brand identity,” he tells us. “We recently collaborated with Bathing Ape, for example, a cutting-edge Japanese clothing label, and we marked the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s album Bad with a range of limited-edition Pepsi merchandise dedicated to the King of Pop.”
“Always offering something new, is that part of your strategy to keep people coming back for more?” Maarten asks.
“Enabling consumers to create, our brand purpose, demands a certain amount of creativity from us as well. Pepsitmall was the first platform of its kind in China, which is innovative in itself, and we want to keep our target group curious and excited. But we have also had a little help from our friends!”
He shows us another page. “We signed up some of China’s hottest young celebrities for our multimedia campaigns. That attracted a huge number of visitors and generated a buzz that extended far beyond the platform.”
As we have been talking, the sun has set and we see the lights coming on in the buildings across the river. “Young people respect brands that are passionate, innovative and responsible,” Richard says. “With the ‘Create for Thirst’ idea and interactive online platform, Pepsi is well on the way to earning that respect.”
© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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