Pepsi Seeks Transsexual Momentum

I don’t know how many people outside of advertising saw or heard Brad Jakeman’s damning indictment of the advertising industry at the ANA’s “Masters of Marketing” conference. From what I could tell, the hand wringing on the agency side was widespread. After all, he made some good points. It was especially brutal coming from Pepsi, a brand that owes much of its existence to longtime agency BBDO.

It’s worth a read:



The weird part, though, was Brad’s challenge: “Have we done anything with our brands that is in any way as remarkable as the way Caitlyn Jenner, and that phenomenon, has been managed?”

My first reaction, like many others’, was simply: WTF? How could a courageous transgender reveal be used as an example of bringing more innovation to advertising? Has he lost his mind?

But I’ve since seen the light. There’s an opportunity for advertising agencies to help Brad deliver a Caitlyn Moment for Pepsi. It’s clear that Big Soda is screwed, and we can help.

Like most of my generation, I was raised on soda. I bought into it as an American birthright. Soda was a big part of our generation’s belief system. Coke was literally “it”. I mean, it taught the goddamned world to sing. It even had cocaine for a little while.

And then there was Pepsi, which is what you drank when they didn’t have Coke. Pepsi was also the voice of a new generation. But we now know all of that was a lie. And that’s why it’s time for the Transsoda Movement.

Why the Transsoda Movement? Why now?

First, we know soda kills people. The contributions from soda to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are well documented. The health issues are so bad that we don’t even bring up the tooth decay thing anymore.

We also know that the more educated and affluent consumers are, the less likely they are to buy soda. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, “Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they avoid soda in their diet”, a number up 22% since 2002. Just like tobacco, the education of the American people has driven Big Soda to look to non-U.S. markets for growth. When we stop buying, they just ship more to Indonesia.

Lastly, we know that the response of Big Soda to falling carbonated sugar water volume is to look to bottled water. According to The New York Times, “sales of bottled water have shot up, and bottled water is now on track to overtake soda as the largest beverage category in two years.”

Bottled water’s rise, of course, is an unmitigated ecological disaster. According to The Water Project, “the plastics used to package water take over 1,000 years to bio-degrade, and if incinerated, produce toxic fumes. It is estimated that over 80% of all single-use water bottles used in the U.S. simply become ‘litter.’”

It is also revealing that Big Soda will tell its investors that their products are dangerous, but won’t share that information with consumers. Coca-Cola admits as much in SEC filings. Again, from NYT: “‘Obesity concerns may reduce demand for some of our products’ was the first ‘risk factor’ for Coca-Cola’s business and profitability listed in the company’s most recent annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple name similar concerns.”

Taken as a whole, soda has become bad business. As president for PepsiCo’s Global Beverage Group, Brad finds himself in a tough spot. He sells disease and pollution. That wasn’t a problem previously, but now it is — but only because we’ve stopped buying. As the American public has discovered, the face of the Pepsi Generation isn’t Beyoncé or Jeff Gordon. It’s a fat kid wearing a dunce cap.

So what about Caitlyn Jenner?

As Caitlyn herself has said, “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘you just blew your entire life. You never dealt with yourself.’” In other words, living as Bruce Jenner was toxic to Caitlyn Jenner.

It’s time for Pepsi’s transformation. It’s time to do something “remarkable” with the capacity for creating a “phenomenon” (Brad’s words). It’s time for Pepsi to become Transsoda. It is an innovation the world will talk about — how a former peddler of toxic swill and plastic pollution became something new entirely.

The first step in this transition, of course, is that PepsiCo should stop selling carbonated beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, along with their diet counterparts. And, yes, bottled water.

In their place, Pepsi could invest in Kleen Kanteen, the family-run maker of BPA-free stainless steel water bottles. They could walk away from shipping single-use items. Pepsi could literally improve the world by committing a percentage of gross revenue to funding clean water access programs in the developing world.

It would be a game-changer. It would be famous, and people would go crazy for it. It not only would help reduce diabetes, heart disease and pollution, it might even help people forget that time Pepsi set Michael Jackson’s hair on fire.

This is what Mr. Jakeman says he wants.

But the Transsoda Movement, of course, is just a dream.

Instead of doing something meaningful, they instead bought their way into a Pepsi commercial storyline on “Empire”, a show perfectly suited to beverage with absolutely zero nutritive value.

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