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Rushing along Southbound 35W in Minneapolis you get a quick look at one of the new Pepsi billboards.

It’s amazing where your mind can go in a single second. The new brandmark looks a lot like a tailfin logo for a small airline serving former Soviet republics. The once-iconic red and blue encroach on a squashed version of the classic Pepsi swoosh. In these ads, the logo is sitting on a flat blue background with the one-word headline Fabulous. If you’re a person who notices typefaces this one won’t feel very inspired, and not to get too particular, but there’s something about the width of the characters and the way they are spaced that seems a little off. You wish you could tell somebody to squoosh them together, just a little.

So what’s fabulous? A trip to where? Maybe the bottom of the ocean, minus cash and passport.

This series of ads are part of Pepsi’s global re-branding (you may also have seen the TV spot in early ’09) which is focused on millenials. It’s part of an effort to respond, as many brands are doing, to the social aesthetic of social media. You see a better example of the strategy when you visit the Refresh Everything site. It looks kind of like a generic and impersonal MySpace page, without the personal photos or found images and patterns people use as wallpaper on social utilities.

When the social media aesthetic is pulled off effectively, it evokes an immediate sense that behind what you’re seeing and reading is a poster, vs. a propagandist. It personalizes brands. Pixelated doesn’t look unsophisticated anymore, because authenticity has supplanted slickness, and authentic content looks like a post, from a guy or girl out there on the internet, whose posts you read. Pepsi’s site looks just “designed” enough to appear inauthentic, but not enough to deliver the fashion, awe and electricity you’re looking for in a big brand. You’ve got to go one way or the other.

Maybe someday, manufacturers and their agencies will figure out how the ads we see can actually be assembled and posted by our friends, and not just look that way. That would be the essence of social marketing. Until they can do that, brands, at least soda brands, should go for the look of a blockbuster and not a home video. I like to see what my friends are doing, but if you know my friends, you probably wouldn’t want them bottling your soft drinks.



– Eric Hayward