Interview, News

Ana Maria Irazabal, Marketing Director for Brand Pepsi in the U.S.: “Pepsi Believes in Optimism and the Power of People”

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As the Pepsi Refresh Project, launched by PepsiCo more than a year ago in the U.S., was gaining momentum and experiencing its second-year successful wave, Popsop team decided to ask the brand about the project in more detail. In this exclusive interview to, Ana Maria Irazabal, Marketing Director for Brand Pepsi in the U.S., the person responsible for the 2009 Pepsi re-launch, which included the “Refresh” campaign, the launch of new products, such as Pepsi Natural and Pepsi Throwback, and the launch of initiative, talks to Popsop Editor, Ekaterina Belan, about the project philosophy, goals, changes in 2011 and further plans.

E.B.: Going back to basics of the Pepsi Refresh Project (PRP — editor’s comment). As it is stated in PepsiCo’s official press releases, The Pepsi Refresh Project was started on Jan 13, 2010 as an evolution of the Refresh Everything initiative launched by the brand earlier in 2009. Was it an attempt to compete your counterpart’s initiative — Coke campaign “Open Happiness”? These 2 campaigns were running almost at the same time. Was it an attempt of the Pepsi brand to become even ‘more socially responsible’?

A.M.I.: Pepsi believes in optimism and the power of people and their ideas to move our communities forward and make them better. PRP is an evolution of the Refresh Everything initiative Pepsi launched in 2009, which showed the company as a catalyst for optimism, leading to an ever-refreshing world. In 2009, Pepsi urged people to think and talk about Refreshing their world. Pepsi spread positive messages of optimism and hope in Washington, D.C. during the 2009 Inauguration and continued to refresh the brand around the concepts of hope and change through the Pepsi Optimism Project, a study that examined the mindset and optimism of American millennials. Pepsi has been at the center of great cultural shifts across many generations. And today, Pepsi is taking part in a shift toward a culture of participation, spurred on by the belief in and power of the actions of people and their ideas.

E.B.: Again, going back to the endless story of “Cola Wars”. While looking through an article about PRP published by Adage last year, I found an interesting reader comment that “Refreshment has always been a key attribute for Coca-Cola dating back to the famous “Pause that refreshes” theme”. Do you agree with that? Has the situation changed after the annual results of PRP? Do you think that Pepsi’s brand image has shifted to a more “refreshing”? Has the refreshment become Pepsi’s key brand attribute?

A.M.I.: Part of Pepsi’s DNA has always been the spirit of the challenger, celebration of the next generation, and of optimism and of all things young at heart. In 2010, we took the challenge to introduce a truly digital program, grounded in consumer engagement, which at the same time demonstrated a bold and credible commitment by Pepsi in what was a very new space for the brand.

The Pepsi Refresh Project is a first-of-its-kind initiative — not just for Pepsi — but for consumer brands, in that it directly responded to the evolving needs of consumers and their preferred methods of communication. The program effectively changed the way brands talk to consumers, leveraging the power of digital and cause-marketing platforms, moving away from traditional marketing methods.

E.B.: Speaking about PRP demographics, and, in a more comprehensive sense, the target audience of the brand. We all remember the old good commercial from 80s with Michael Jackson starring, which promoted a slogan “Pepsi. The Choice of a New Generation”. Obviously, that slogan appealed to youth. Now the slogan sounds as “Pepsi. Refresh Everything” — hence, the “demographic boundaries” of this message are slightly blurred. Who is now a target audience of the brand and, particularly, of the PRP? How old and what gender is Pepsi’s “next generation” in 2011?

A.M.I.: The PRP was created for anyone with good ideas that move communities forward.  This continues to be our target audience.  This year, we’re building on the success of 2010, injecting even more fun into the Pepsi Refresh Project, challenging the next generation to tell us what they care about and dare to make a difference.

E.B.: In regards to the effectiveness of the PRP. It’s a common point of view, yet, shared by Pepsi management, that PRP showed maximum of effectives in 2010, despite the fact that the company spent $20 m on PRP, while lost 0.4 volume share in the first half of 2010? How do you measure the success of the project? By what criteria, tools etc? Have you ever planned to get some ROI from PRP?

A.M.I.: In its first year, the Pepsi Refresh Project directed more than $20 million to fund more than 1,000 great ideas from consumers across the country. Among the Pepsi Refresh Projects that have secured grants and been refreshed are 108 schools, 68 parks and playgrounds, and 20 children’s homes, shelters and affordable houses in addition to the Gulf Coast community through the Do Good for the Gulf Initiative.

The Pepsi Refresh Project has activated 29,000 new volunteers, directly changed the lives of over 148,000 people, and awarded over $2 million to 61 grantees…all of whom were under 25 years old.

In 2010, we also measured success through the increase in Pepsi’s key brand health metrics. We found that awareness of the Pepsi Refresh Project is two times more compared to similar cause-marketing programs. Interaction with the campaign’s website,, significantly increased brand attributes including favorability, intent and trust along with intent to purchase among millennials was exceptional. Pepsi Refresh had 3,183,527 facebook fans (increased 11x since 2009) by the end of 2010.

In 2011, we will continue to measure success through our brand health metrics.  By doubling the number of grants, we hope to extend our social impact footprint to more individuals and communities.  In addition, we anticipate deeper consumer engagement and more user conversation through our new site as well as the Pepsi Challenge and Power Voting.

E.B.: Here another question comes. Pepsi has always declined to comment on the direct effect of PRP on sales? Would you do an exception for and share some figures?

A.M.I.: Pepsi does not disclose sales data for individual brands, but we can confirm that the Pepsi Refresh Project helped increase key brand health metrics in 2010.  For instance, Pepsi became one of the most talked-about brands at the Super Bowl despite not advertising — twice as many Americans are now aware of the Pepsi Refresh Project, versus similar cause-marketing programs. Interaction with the campaign’s website,, significantly increased brand attributes including favorability, intent and trust along with intent to purchase among millennials.

We’ve always said that if you support Pepsi, you support the Pepsi Refresh Project. In 2011, consumers will see an even deeper connection to purchase between Pepsi brands and consumers.  For example, this year, we are introducing a new “Power Voting” period tied to product along with even more integration via the brand’s social media channels and

And beyond continuing to do good together, 2011 promises to be a great year of connecting with our consumers by leveraging our marquee music, sports and entertainment platforms through each of the Pepsi brands.  For example:
•    The popularity of Pepsi Throwback, along with the product’s incremental sales, has led to the product joining our portfolio full-time.
•    Diet Pepsi, likewise, is excited about its re-launch, which debuted with the introduction of a sleek new can and ad campaign, featuring spokeswoman Sofia Vergara (and David Beckham!).
•    Pepsi Max continues to see success and is up by 120% since July 2010. Max is currently gearing up for its upcoming partnership with MLB and launch of new TV ads.
•    Pepsi blue can continues to demonstrate Pepsi’s iconic musical history with its sponsorship of the upcoming X Factor platform.

E.B.: Partnerships, critique, rivals. It’s interesting to know the reaction on PRP from the other global brands, government and non-government organizations, focused on social commitment and charity. Have you ever received any critique or, vv, been offered to partner with Pepsi on this project? Can you give any examples of alike social media projects run by other global brands, what do you think of them?

A.M.I.: Never before has a trusted brand engaged in the work of doing social good with the level of resources behind the Pepsi Refresh Project. In 2010, Pepsi gave away an unprecedented $20 million in grants and invited the public to rank the best ideas in an open vote.   Now in its second year, the Pepsi Refresh Project stands apart from other programs in that it is open to a broad spectrum of ideas, and continues to be a sustained yearlong effort.

E.B.: In 2011 we see some changes to the project conditions: now we have 4 categories instead of 6, including the “rotating” one, the grant fee tiers have been cut significantly, while the time for submission has been extended and the social media channels, through which people can vote for their favorite idea, have been broaden to a mobile app and text2vote programs. Please tell us more about these changes and their reasons.

A.M.I.: We have listened to feedback from consumers and are making several improvements to the program to enhance the overall experience and mission of the Pepsi Refresh Project.  Specifically:
•    This year the Refresh Project will award up to 64 grants each month instead of 32.
•    To help more local communities benefit from the Pepsi Refresh Project, we are eliminating the $250k grant tier and adding $10k as an option: The four grant tiers will be $5k, $10K, $25K and $50K.  Of the 64 potential grants awarded, 50 will be at the $25k or less levels, these smaller grants are a good option for individuals and local organizations.
•    Three categories will guide idea submissions — Arts & Music, Communities and Education.
•    Additionally, we will launch a new way to participate by posing a unique question to consumers each month – we’re calling this the Pepsi Challenge.
•    The Pepsi Challenge will provide inspiration on different topics each month, encouraging fun ideas to refresh communities.  A new monthly challenge will be announced in the form of a question. Idea submitters have the option of either responding to the Pepsi Challenge question or they can submit an idea via the three categories.
•    Through the lottery system, a minimum of 100 ideas will be selected for the Pepsi Challenge, and a minimum of four Pepsi Challenge grants – one for each tier level – will be awarded.
•    Submissions will be accepted April 2011 through November 2011, with the final round of ideas voted on in December 2011.
•    The first submission window will be open April 4th — April 8th, all subsequent submission windows will open on the 1st and close on the 5th of each month.  1,500 new ideas will be randomly selected via lottery and posted for voting, pending review (lottery described in next question).
•    The number of votes allowed per individual each day has been reduced to 5 votes, compared to 10 votes allowed in 2010.
•    We will also introduce a “Power Voting” period tied to product purchase.   May 1 through September 30, Power Vote codes will allow voters to apply extra votes to one idea they like, up to ten times per day.   Power vote values are randomly assigned.
•    We will continue to take any allegation of fraud very seriously and we are evolving our processes for 2011 to protect those projects that campaign and compete fairly.

E.B.: Ana Maria, my final question concerns the international scalability of the PRP. Last year it was stated that Pepsi intended to launch the program in Europe, Latin America and Asia in 2011. Is that correct? Can you share the details of this plan: what countries are supposed to be involved? What’s the budget for non-American regions?

A.M.I.: There are no international markets running the PRP. It’s a US-only program.

International markets are running a different program called PROJECT REFRESH, which has some common aspects with PRP (it’s a competition of ideas) but differs on a number of key aspects (in particular prizing, no multi-million funds; targeting — focused on individual youth only; and brief: it’s about making the world more exciting and fun, not better).

Markets are Portugal, Sweden, Italy, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, and 10 countries in the Middle East.

E.B.: Dear Ana Maria, thank you for your time and deep insight into the latest Pepsi Refresh Project phase. At Popsop, we’ll continue following the project news and share the updates with our readers.

About the Interviewee

Ana Maria Irazabal, Marketing Director for Brand Pepsi in the U.S., leads the team responsible for the 2009 Pepsi re-launch, which includes the “Refresh” campaign, the launch of new products, such as Pepsi Natural and Pepsi Throwback, and the launch of, the site behind the successful “Dear Mr. President” program.

Prior to her current role, Ana Maria was Director of Innovation for Sparkling Beverages for four years. She also spent five years at Pepsi International — three years in her home country of Venezuela and two years at PI Headquarters in Purchase, NY, where she was instrumental in the international rollout of Mountain Dew.


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