Pepsi has opted out of Superbowl advertising this year, choosing instead to focus on digital and social media marketing. But here’s the thing about social media campaigns — they can come together pretty quickly. And when Pepsi decided to pass on SuperBowl ads this year, there was one thing the company didn’t account for. Coke adding social to its CBS ad buy.

Coke plans to give up to $500,000 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and will raise half of that money through a campaign tied to the company’s Facebook page. As of Wednesday, Coke started offering branded virtual gifts that Facebook users can send to their friends for free. For each gift sent, Coke will donate $1 to the Boys & Girls Club.

Facebook users that send the gifts will also receive a 20-second sneak peek at one of the two Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercials. On game day February 7, those users will also receive access to the full ads that will run during commercial breaks.

Katie Bayne, chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola North America, says that Coke’s matching campaign was in the works before Pepsi decided to opt out of Super Bowl ads this year. But the Facebook element was developed last in 2009, and it’s hard not to view it as a response to Pepsi’s Refresh Everything project.

Pepsi notably decided to not buy any Super Bowl ads this year, which often run in the market of $3 million for 30 seconds of air time. A rep from Pepsi told The Wall Street Journal at the time that “It would be too hard to explain Pepsi’s new marketing campaign in a 30-second TV spot.”

Instead of shelling out for those ads, Pepsi is focusing its marketing efforts on digital, spending $20 million to promote its efforts to donate to projects that “will have a positive impact”:

But Coke is not above competing for altruistic attention with Pepsi. Bayne tells AdAge:

“The altruistic element to be added to the Super Bowl ad effort reflects
a longtime corporate philosophy ‘to do a little good while you’re
refreshing people.'”

Coke’s message is not entirely charity focused, but the new commercials, created by Wieden + Kennedy, riff on the theme of “Open Happiness” and posit that sharing Coke is one of life’s “little pleasures.”

One ad, titled “Sleepwalker,” shows a man sleepwalking
across Africa running into different animals on his quest for a Coke.
The second, “Hard Times,” depicts The Simpson’s Mr. Burns losing his fortune and finding happiness as he watches others enjoy Coke in a neighborhood park.

This is not the first time that the two soft-drink brands have had similarly themed campaigns. They often play off of one another, with messaging and purchasing choices. Last year PepsiCo even went so far as to block Coke and other non-alcoholic beverage companies from purchasing ads in the first half of the Super Bowl.

As for this year, it will be interesting to see how the two campaigns fare. Coke was already using the high cost venue of the Super Bowl for
branding, but now they’re hoping to a little good by means of
social media. And the company can’t resist getting a little jab in at
the competition while they’re at it. Bane continued, taking a mild stab
at Pepsi:

“They said they didn’t have the kind of expression of what they wanted to do that would fit in a 30-second commercial. By
being more flexible and understanding some of the ways that consumers
are using different media, we found a way to bring it all together.”

Meanwhile, Pepsi is betting that its Refresh Everything campaign can be better shared through social media than during half-time at the SuperBowl. That may be true — people working in the space are more likely to share information on social media than through a TV commercial.

But as far as branding goes, Coke may get the upper hand this year, because the entire audience watching the Super Bowl will know about its charity efforts. And throwing a little social into the mix means the company has all of its bases covered.

For what it’s worth, 2,500 virtual Coke gifts were shared on Facebook during Coke’s webcast anouncement this week,
meaning $2,500 went to the Boys & Girls Club in that short period of time. And that was happening while most tech focused consumers were watching Steve Jobs announce the new iPad tablet.

Images: Coke/Pepsi