Pepsi celebrates 125 years: Inside the marketer’s media blitz

Pepsi celebrates 125 years: Inside the marketer’s media blitz

Pepsi is counting down the clock. On Monday (Aug. 28), the soft drink marketer will kick off 125 days of promotions leading into New Year’s Eve, a slate of marketing programming meant to celebrate 125 years since the brand — originally an alcohol-free digestif known as Brad’s Drink — was conceived. Along with calling back to memorable marketing from Pepsi’s past, including the Pepsi Challenge and “Pepsi Girl” from the ‘90s, the media blitz serves as the official introduction of a new logo and “pulse” motif unveiled in the spring. The refresh represents the company’s first visual overhaul in 14 years. 

In an interview, Pepsi CMO Todd Kaplan described the anniversary kickoff as an “inflection point” and opportunity to reinforce a cultural status that’s been shored up through decades of appearances in sports, music and entertainment, as well as a rich history of advertising. The nostalgic campaign focused on 125 pulses, or different marketing activations, runs the gamut of channels: Pepsi will deploy traditional spots, social content, SMS promotions and experiential tactics, including a diner experience coming to New York City in the fall.

“We want a nod back and a leap forward,” said Kaplan. “Similarly, we want to recognize and celebrate 125 years as a major milestone for any brand.” 

A heavy marketing push comes as the PepsiCo marketer prioritizes a recently reformulated Pepsi Zero Sugar soda that has risen to be one of its biggest growth drivers and now stands as the centerpiece of a long-running relationship with the NFL. The visual makeover emphasizes black, Pepsi Zero Sugar’s color scheme, and uses the better-for-you beverage as a guiding master brand. New ads running on digital and linear channels put Pepsi Zero Sugar front and center and keep the camera locked on Pepsi products to better show off the revamped logo. 

While the campaign carries plenty of Easter eggs for existing Pepsi fans, it’s also designed to bring new loyalists into the fold, according to Kaplan. On Aug. 28, Pepsi’s birthday, the company will dole out free Pepsi products to consumers who text “PEPSI125” to an 81234 number.

“As we look forward, all the consumer trends are pointing toward zero sugar. That is a huge, growing category,” said Kaplan. “We want to get as many people to try it as possible.”

Driving cultural impact

Beyond conventional commercials, Pepsi is putting more muscle behind its experiential playbook, content marketing and earned media opportunities that have taken greater priority in the digital age. A special edition of People magazine will be dedicated to all things Pepsi, Kaplan said. 

“We use paid media for key tentpole moments and to keep an always-on presence, and we use earned media and digital media to really drive that deeper connection,” said Kaplan. “We’re building a bunch of creative elements over the next 125 days that are going to be designed to have more, call it, cultural impact.”

From Oct. 19-25, the brand will open the doors to The Pepsi 125 Diner in New York City. The concept references the many Pepsi ads that have taken place in American greasy spoons, such as “Is Pepsi OK” and a series of “Pepsi-Cola Soda Shop” campaigns that hawked experimental flavor variants drawing on old-school sodas. The strategy is another indication that marketers are returning to in-person experiences that were disrupted during the pandemic years but have proved popular with young demographics like millennials.

“Experiential marketing is definitely having a comeback,” said Kaplan. 

The diner ties into a “Better with Pepsi” platform introduced in 2021 that touts Pepsi as the superior pairing with foods including hamburgers, pizza and hot dogs. A three-course meal will be served at the eatery and visitors can try out concoctions like a Pepsi-milk combo dubbed “Pilk” and a soda-infused condiment called Pepsi Colachup that debuted earlier this summer. 

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