Are Brands Setting A New Social Ante?

March 02, 2010

Brands are looking for tiebreakers when consumers are at the shelf –

Brands are looking for tiebreakers when consumers are at the shelf – and its not always about price, packaging, taste or nutritional content. To differentiate today, some brands are doling out hundreds of dollars up to $250,000 at a time to fund causes that are meaningful to individuals, businesses or nonprofit groups. 

The Pepsi Refresh program (, for instance, funds two $250,000 grants per month as part of its March grant budget of $1.3 million, which will go to entrants that gain the highest vote tallies from site visitors. Some of the leaders as of last night:  Make dreams in urban youth children come true. Replace a school’s greenhouse roof. Produce an eco-friendly play in NYC. Create a charity garden. Recycle bikes as alternate transportation.

More than 1,000 ideas are currently vying for dollars, and finalists for ideas submitted in March will be selected on April 1. Grant recipients from February will be announced on March 22. Among criteria: projects must have a clear public benefit, and salaries should preferably be less than 50% of the grant sought. 

It looks to us at The Lempert Report like marketing with a good-for-you twist that could help to improve quality of life in the grassroots, where people see and feel it. So if an inner-city teen shopper is deciding between Coke and Pepsi at a checkstand cooler, the hope is he’ll tip towards Pepsi because the brand supported a local program.

According to Simon Mainwaring, a branding consultant interviewed by Ad Age, brands are “encouraging consumers to define what’s meaningful to them, so marketers can reach out to them in more meaningful ways.” Moreover, 79% of consumers indicate they would likely switch from one brand to another (when price and quality are close) if the other brand associates with a good cause – up from 66% in 1993, Cone, a strategy and communications firm, also told the paper.

Because the entries and votes occur online, Pepsi Refresh should be able to build metrics and insights that contribute to competitive advantage. The brand is aligning itself with issues that matter most to consumers – and that could be a tiebreaker. Better still will be if Pepsi can find data proof of volume rises that stem from supported programs. If they do, other brands will follow and more communities will benefit.