According to Frank Cooper, Pepsi’s SVP and chief consumer engagement officer, his company no longer wants to act like a big brand. The self-described “voice of a generation” isn’t looking for its next celebrity spokesperson or major TV placement.

At TechCrunch Disrupt in New York, Cooper explained:

“Now the big brand story is: don’t act like a big brand.”

That directive could be harder than it looks.

Large consumer facing brands spend a lot of money trying to market themselves in traditional media. Pepsi, for instance, has spent millions associating itself with iconic pop stars like Britney Spears and Michael Jackson, at the height of their fame. 

But Cooper says that the company has shifted its marketing arm away from such partnerships:

“We want to become a catalyst in the culture rather than act like a big brand announcing something.”

That sounds nice, but as he points out, “it goes against all the systems put in place that were designed for mass marketing.”

Pepsi has long marketed itself as The Voice of a Generation. But over the last few years, it is trying to make consumers and their opinions more connected to the brand.

Pepsi has taken on crowdsourcing with its Dewmocracy
project to choose and name the next Mountain Dew flavor. But it’s the
company’s less traditional Pepsi Refresh Project that has won Pepsi the most attention lately. That’s because Pepsi skipped purchasing SuperBowl ads this year to spend $20
million on charity initiatives.

So far, Pepsi Refresh has generated 5 million uniques and 20 million
votes. Currently they’re working with 3,500 ideas that could win
funding from Pepsi.

Has the increased goodwill translated into soda sales? That question is harder to answer.

“I don’t know anyone at a large scale consumer products company that has honed that part of the process.”

But Pepsi has implemented guidelines to help organize its marketing going forward. Says Cooper:

“We’re really looking for situations where we add value to the experience.”

That means working with brands and online entities toward a similar goal, rather than interrupting an experience to insert an ad. As for Pepsi’s views on engagement, Cooper puts it like this:

“Engagement comes down to one simple term: relationship. A purely transactional situation isn’t a relationship. If it’s an open dialogue and the conumer is communicating back to the brand, that’s engagement.”

And what about Pepsi’s lifelong rivalry with competitor Coke? Cooper thinks that Pepsi has changed the game in the digital space. Pepsi and Coke may compete directly for television advertising, but Cooper says that Pepsi’s status as a “challenger brand” has flourished in digital:

“In many ways we’re on different tracks. You’d have to have a Coke brand manager explain it, but I think they typically have gone down a path of really pushing through a clear message about what their brand stands for… We’ve been more aggresstive from a bottom up approach to reach consumers.”