Cola Chameleon: Were Pepsi’s Hidden Logo Ads Effective?

Cola Chameleon: Were Pepsi’s Hidden Logo Ads Effective?

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Pepsi’s recent “burger wrapper” print ads debuted in May to near-universal industry praise. “Sometimes”, wrote Adweek, “an ad idea is so perfect creatives find it almost painful to look at.” So of course we had to run them through our Test Your Ad Static test, to measure their effectiveness and potential for brand growth.

The ads in question were very unusual – close ups of burger wrappers from McDonalds, Wendy’s and Burger King, with the Pepsi logo revealed in the folds of the wrapping. The message? Burgers go better with Pepsi – even though none of those chains actually serve it. “For over 30 years, the top three burger chains have denied US consumers the opportunity to enjoy the optimal taste combination they truly deserve”, thundered PepsiCo’s Tod Kaplan in a LinkedIn post, and the ads went hand in hand with a promotional offer of free Pepsi on National Hamburger Day. A final ad showed the mascots of the three chains walking together, ice-cold Pepsis in hand.

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It’s easy to see why creatives love the campaign – it’s very cleverly done, and creates a smile of recognition when you realise what’s going on. It’s also an ingenious use of other brands’ fluent
devices – the burger chains’ mascots and wrappers.

Indeed what’s most unusual about these ads is how high a level of Brand Fluency and ad literacy they expect from consumers. A viewer needs to recognize the burger brand, recognize the Pepsi logo, and understand the link the ads are making between the two. These aren’t difficult tasks but it’s an unusual amount of cognitive load for a print ad.

That isn’t always a bad thing – wordplay, visual puns, and cultural references all catch the attention of the right brain, which makes for more effective ads. But using multiple brand assets does pose a risk to Brand Fluency – do audiences get that these are ads for Pepsi, not, say, McDonalds?

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The results from Test Your Ad Static underline both these points. In terms of Star Rating, these are effective ads. The one with the mascots was the best liked, with a strong 4-Star score and lots of happiness and surprise from seeing the burger mascots together. But the wrapper ads scored 3-Stars each, a good rating and a sign of growth potential from the campaign.

What’s less impressive, though, are the short-term Spike and Brand Fluency scores. These were all low, with Fluency levels especially poor for a global brand like Pepsi. Far more of the audience than you’d expect simply did not recognize that these were Pepsi ads and instead took them as commercials for the burger chains. Subtlety wins you awards but it doesn’t always hook viewers the right way.

Pepsi’s ads are bold, creative and made their audience smile – that’s something to be proud of. And it’s raised awareness of the fact that top burger chains only sell Coke (though how wise stressing that is remains to be seen). But its high Star Ratings and low Spike Ratings make it a rare example of a campaign that feels like a short-term activation promotion but may actually work much better as a long-term play.

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