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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unique Pepsi Campaign Zeroes In On Russia

Pepsi has recently launched a worldwide campaign focusing on turning its cans blue, but, in what Pepsi executives claim is a first, the soft drink maker has developed a unique campaign for the Russian market.

The global campaign features a Concorde painted blue as well as promotions by tennis player Andre Agassi and models Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford.

Pepsi's marketing director for Russia, Neil Bainton, said the country is considered so different -- and so strategically important -- that Pepsi and its advertising agency BBDO have devised a giant campaign exclusively for this market. It features a promo-spot aboard the Mir space station, as well as Cindy Crawford in Red Square saying in Russian "Eto tvoe vremya" -- "It is your time" -- the slogan of the campaign. The clips also feature young Russians on the street saying that the new color is "cool."

But the hallmark of the Russian campaign are 19 advertisements called "Vremya Pepsi" or "Pepsi News." The ads start by featuring the traditional clock from the Soviet television program "Vremya," which shatters into pieces, giving way to a scene from outer space with a new-wave Russian newscaster in aviator goggles who activates video footage from the latest stop in the company's "Project Blue" campaign as it opens in cities around the world.

Pepsi faces a unique problem in repositioning itself on the Russian market, where it established a capitalist beachhead in the Soviet Union in a big Khrushchev-era deal.

Although Coke was slow to start, it has emerged onto the new consumer market of the 1990s without the associations of the Soviet era. Since the borders opened, Pepsi has been losing ground, and now its global rival has come from behind to achieve parity in the Russian soft-drink market.

"Since we have been in the market for so long, some people might consider Pepsi to be a Soviet brand," said the company's Bainton. "We needed to show that we are more dynamic and can change as youth changes."

He added, however, that the company had been careful to maintain some elements of the old logo. "We kept the element of red, white and blue of the old look, which is now in the form of the red, white and blue quarter globe."

Bainton added that over the company's lifetime it has changed the Pepsi packaging 10 times, but the switch to blue marks the most radical change yet. The new advertising campaign is intended to introduce Russian consumers to the new color by quickly blanketing the market via a number of media outlets including television, radio and print.

"When you introduce such a big change in your color so dramatically, it is important to get your consumer to feel comfortable with the change as quickly as possible," he said.

For the past three weeks, the Russian campaign has run on television stations including ORT and NTV Independent Television and TV-6. There have also been radio spots on Radio Maximum and Europe-Plus informing people at what time of day they can expect to see the television advertisements, which have aired before Russian evening news programs.

In addition, the company has launched an extensive billboard campaign that features a Pepsi bottle circling the earth with the "Eto tvoe vremya" slogan. On April 27, the company paid to turn the mastheads blue and headlines of a number of newspapers in the European part of Russia.

Yevgeny Nikolsky, media planner at the Moscow office of the Western advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, said the strategy was a smart approach to consumers aged 19 to 30, who are the main target group for beverage companies.

"People are so used to seeing bad news on television, with all the crime and Chechnya," he said. "Now Pepsi is saying that there is some good news.

"Pepsi can have a much greater impact on the Russian market by adopting advertisements that are specific to Russian consumers," Nikolsky said. "They have much more appeal than just simply translating advertisements from English."

But one advertising-industry participant said the ads are difficult to understand.

"It is hard for me to understand what message they are trying to convey," said Adam Payne, client services director at the Moscow office of Western agency Young & Rubicam, which is beginning to do work for Crush and Dr. Pepper. "I think the execution is a little too sophisticated and too quick."

He said Pepsi will have a hard time finding resonance among Russians. "People are going to have trouble accepting that the people they have in the ads presenting Pepsi are really representatives of Russian society."

But he added: they are probably achieving their communication goals, which is to get the Pepsi name into the market. "Image is more important than the product, and the company is soaking the market with its new image in its advertising campaign. That is bound to hit consumers."

Pepsi is also hedging its bets. The uniqueness of the Russian advertising campaign will be short-lived. Bainton said Pepsi will this week phase out its Russia-specific advertisements and introduce its international copy instead. But he added that the local strategy to the campaign was an important way to kick it off.

"The Russian advertising was meant to connect a number of events that were going on to maximize their impact," said Bainton, referring to the live hookup on Mir on April 26 that Pepsi arranged to promote the Russian campaign, as well as a rock concert on Red Square held the next day which was sponsored by the company.

"The bread and butter still lies with international advertising," he said, but added that the company is considering doing more locally oriented advertising depending on the results of the current campaign.

One advertising industry specialist said there is a risk the company's strategy might backfire.

"People in Russia had gotten used to the older Pepsi logotype," Nikolsky said. "The company runs the risk that people will not be receptive to the change," but, he added, "I think that risk is fairly small."

Bainton did not give specific numbers as to the cost of the advertising campaign, but said the company is spending "significantly more than it has in the past."

Arch enemy Coca Cola, meanwhile, primarily relies on the company's international campaigns to promote itself in Russia.

Michael O'Neill, deputy president for the Nordic and Northern Eurasian division, said that Coca Cola is only now beginning to intensify advertising, as it has since 1991 been concentrating on establishing its infrastructure.

"It doesn't make sense to do a lot of advertising until the infrastructure to deliver the product is in place," O'Neill said. But he added that the company is starting a new phase in marketing strategy -- to convince Russians to drink Coca Cola chilled.

Another key competitor in the Russian market, the Herschi brand of colas, has already followed Pepsi's lead in developing a home-grown Russian advertising campaign. It has enlisted the support of Russian tennis star Andrei Kafelnikov, who features ads that are now receiving heavy airplay.