Brand Strategy

Pepsi sat out the Super Bowl broadcast this year. That’s because it was everywhere else

While the former halftime show sponsor didn’t run a TV spot, it did promote Pepsi Wild Cherry on social media and on the ground in Las Vegas.
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· 4 min read

Pepsi might have FOMO from the Super Bowl halftime show, but not from the game itself.

After a decade, the soda brand announced in 2022 that it wouldn’t continue as halftime show sponsor. Apple Music scooped up the rights, while Pepsi maintained its status as the NFL’s official soft drink, but viewers watching the Super Bowl might have noticed the brand didn’t run a TV ad this year, despite the fact that it’s leaned into its NFL sponsorship in recent months.

Fans lucky enough to have been in Las Vegas for the game, though, may have run into Pepsi marketing around the city: The brand spent Super Bowl Sunday and the week before promoting Pepsi Wild Cherry through its ongoing “Get Wild” campaign.

“There are few things wilder than a Super Bowl in Las Vegas,” Pepsi CMO Todd Kaplan told Marketing Brew. “I think the opportunity, as we look at our core target and where they’re spending their time, is partnering with a lot of these creators who have such avid followers…and figuring out a way to tell really dynamic stories with them, leveraging Las Vegas as the creative canvas.”

Broadcast pass

Plenty of brands shelled out millions of dollars for Super Bowl broadcast ads, but Pepsi wasn’t among them. Kaplan said the brand evaluates the game differently every year, and determined that this time around, experiential components made more sense, seeing as host city Vegas’s wild reputation lined up nicely with Pepsi’s focus on marketing Wild Cherry.

Social media trends also played a role in Pepsi’s decision to sit out the broadcast, Kaplan said.

“As we look at our consumer spending more and more time on a lot of these social platforms—be it TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, you name it—we thought it was just such a great opportunity for our brand to…provide that unprecedented access to Super Bowl weekend, since so many people have FOMO, frankly, and can’t participate themselves,” he said.

Reach out

Like several other brands, Pepsi advertised on Sphere, and had a presence along the strip with experiences like the “Pepsi Big Game Vault,” a walk-in vault where fans had the chance to win prizes and meet Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua.

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For the social media component of its campaign, Pepsi partnered with Khaby Lame, the most-followed creator on TikTok, and magician Zach King, who has more than 80 million followers on the platform.

Pepsi brought Lame to Vegas for his first Super Bowl, where he met Houston Texans quarterback and Pepsi Zero Sugar NFL Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud, Guy Fieri, and Shaquille O’Neal at the brand’s experiential activations. Lame served as Pepsi Wild Cherry’s “on-site correspondent” over the weekend, Kaplan said, posting videos with Stroud and Shaq.

King performed sleight-of-hand magic tricks incorporating Sphere, a cherry, and a can of Pepsi Wild Cherry for a video posted to his TikTok and Pepsi’s social channels. As of Monday morning, his TikTok video had over 24 million views. With more than 242 million TikTok followers between Lame and King, Kaplan said that Pepsi was aiming to achieve “good, if not sometimes better” reach than it might have with a TV campaign alone.

“You juxtapose that, relative to the reach and scale of the Super Bowl overall, and it’s a pretty compelling offering,” he said.

Big picture

The broader “Get Wild” campaign has incorporated broadcast ads, including two national TV spots that kicked off on Wild Card Weekend, as well as podcast ads, a partnership with Candy Crush, and an in-store promotion, Jenny Danzi, Pepsi’s senior marketing director, told us last month.

“Get Wild” will live on after the Super Bowl, too: Danzi said Pepsi Wild Cherry “will remain a priority” throughout the year, based on sales data from 2023 showing growth in the cherry-cola category driven by millennial women, the target audience for the Wild Card Weekend portion of the campaign. Pepsi is measuring all aspects of the campaign in aggregate, according to Kaplan, and looking to increase awareness and sales.

“Wild Cherry is a big bet for us as a brand,” Kaplan said. “It’s a huge, high-growth category, it’s a delicious product, it’s a point of difference that we have relative to our competitors…and we really wanted to lean into that.”

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