Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Will the passed Michael Jackson revive Pepsi’s global brand?

By Katie Li

 Early this month, Pepsi announced its "Live For Now" campaign, featuring Michael Jackson’s silhouette on the cans of Pepsi Cola. After reading both praises and critiques, like “full stupidity” from media and marketing experts, as a big fan of Michael Jackson and a marketing professional, I decided to voice my own opinion on this campaign.

 This new promotion includes 1 billion special edition cans bearing Jackson’s image, a TV ad, and remixes from the Pepsi-sponsored Bad tour of 1987. This promotion is part of a global marketing plan for Pepsi, which aims to revive its brand and win back the global market share it lost to Coke in the past years. Pepsi’s No.2 spot was taken by Diet Coke in 2010 and it lost another 1 percent market share in the U.S. in 2012.

 Media and experts diverge on the question whether Michael Jackson is an appealing figure or connected to negativity and fatal drug use. I believe that Pepsi executives understand the controversy of the King of Pop, and they believe that the love and nostalgia people showed after his death overwhelmingly outweighs his tragic personal life.  

 The problem that Pepsi fails to consider is whether the connection fans feel with Michael will lead them to drink Pepsi versus Coke. Michael Jackson’s fans, who were born during the 70s or 80s, are no longer teenagers wearing T-shirts with their icon’s face to demonstrate their admiration. Neither will these 30 or 40 year olds show their respect for Michael Jackson by holding a Pepsi can while walking down the street.

 It concerned me more that Pepsi would initiate this campaign in China and the U.S. first. My friend Bethany told me that Michael’s court trials make many people in the U.S. doubt his innocence even after his death. “Michael is not widely loved here in the U.S. as in other parts of the world,” she said. In fact, neither is Michael as popular in China as one may believe. The Chinese media spoke highly of Michael when he died in 2009, but I do not know anyone personally claimed as a fan of him. That is because when Chinese youth started to learn about western Pop culture in the 90s, Michael has been portrayed as “Wacko Jacko” but not the extremely talented young Jackson.

    I would give three pieces of suggestions to Pepsi before it throws million dollars and fails the campaign:
  • Define your final goal: When Pepsi partnering Michael Jackson 25 years ago, the goal was to make Pepsi look young and Coke look old and it worked. What is your goal right now?
  • Find your target audience: Who would you target, people in their 30s and 40s, or today’s teenagers who feel Michael Jackson belongs to their parents’ generation?
  • Find your profitable markets: Which countries have both a profitable consumer market and a large Michael Jackson fans base? 

    As a person who has benefited from Michael’s lifetime inspiration until now, I’ll definitely buy some Pepsi cans to put on my bookshelf. I thank Pepsi for selecting Michael as their new brand icon and I also sincerely hope that this campaign will end with great success. However, Pepsi needs a better and clearer strategy rather than some fan's good will. 

Katie Li is a current graduate student in the Northwestern Medill IMC marketing program, with 5 year work experience for Microsoft and Ogilvy in China. Katie decided to move to the U.S., when the death of her lifetime icon Michael Jackson revived her long-time dream of living in the U.S. Katie aims to find a job in the Internet Marketing and Global Marketing industries after graduation. She shares her learning, interest and passion towards her profession and life through @iamkatieli on Twitter and on LinkedIn. 

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