Gifting cash for the holidays can carry a negative stigma, with many viewing the approach as impersonal or lazy. A new marketing campaign from Pepsi rolling out today looks to dismantle those perceptions, putting a gamified spin on paying it forward to let people dole out cash rewards in a guilt-free way.
"People who gift cash sometimes get a bad reputation," Todd Kaplan, Pepsi's VP of marketing, told Mobile Marketer. "They say, oh, it lacks meaning. But the truth is that cash gives people the power to buy whatever they want."
Through the end of December, the soft drink maker is selling 12 packs of Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Zero Sugar, Wild Cherry Pepsi and Pepsi Vanilla — along with Pepsi Mini Cans in 15 and 10 packs — featuring a QR code that opens a digital scratch-off game. When consumers see three Pepsi globe icons, they can turn them in to receive cash prizes ranging from $5 to $25,000. Rather than keeping the rewards, winners send their earnings to friends, family or Pepsi's nonprofit partner United Way via email, Facebook Messenger or Airdrop.
Participants who register for the Gift it Forward platform, which was developed with agency Motive, also enter weekly drawings for a chance to win an all-expenses-paid, four-day trip to Puerto Rico. Travel is provided by Pepsi's new corporate partner JetBlue, with hotel accommodations by Marriott.
The effort also includes giveaways on iHeartRadio and in-stadium activations that interpret the kiss cam with a pay-it-forward angle.
Beyond alleviating some of the stresses associated with seasonal shopping, such as long lines, the overall goal of the campaign is to establish a new holiday tradition, according to Kaplan.
"It's all about disrupting the typical ways that people could go about holiday gift-giving by enabling them to unapologetically give the gift of cash," Kaplan said. "What's really fun about it is it's not just about a typical promotion … you win a cash prize that you can gift forward to someone else."
Pepsi's interactive push around this year's holiday season comes as rivals are also leaning into mobile. Coca-Cola yesterday unveiled what it's billing as its first "large-scale" augmented reality (AR) activation. Seasonal Coke packaging can be scanned with a smartphone camera to reveal virtual depictions of the brand's long-standing polar bear mascots.
"The reality of it is people go everywhere with their phones, so it's an easy way [to engage them]," Kaplan said of Pepsi's mobile-first approach. "This just simplifies so many layers from how sweepstakes or promotions used to be run."
The scannable packaging concept isn't new for Pepsi. Last summer, it ran a “#Summergram” campaign that spurred consumers to scan QR codes on certain products to unlock AR filters on Instagram. The brand also designed special stickers for messaging on the app.
However, "Gift it Forward" is app-agnostic, a bid to open up more scale and accessibility for consumers who don't use particular platforms.
"We decided not to go with a partner for this one," Kaplan said. "The goal is to get as many people participating and entering as possible and make it as frictionless an experience as we can."
Spreading the cheer
During an especially noisy period of the year, Pepsi will extend "Gift it Forward" messaging via digital and social channels like Instagram and Twitter, along with physical and radio activations.
The company is tapping the NHL and NFL professional sports leagues to install in-stadium "Cash Cams" that play off the kiss cam concept. During games, Jumbotrons will spotlight an audience member, present them a prize and then pressure them on what to do with it, Kaplan explained.
"A chosen fan will have the opportunity to keep the cash that we're offering them there on the spot for themselves, or instead they have the choice to spread the holiday cheer and give 10 times that amount of cash to an entire row somewhere else in the stadium," he said.
For the launch, Pepsi also partnered with the iHeartRadio program "Elvis Duran in the Morning" to offer giveaways in the media network's 52 local markets. Each week across November and December, a celebrity guest will call into the show to donate a one-of-a-kind gift. Like other elements of the campaign, the integration comes with a twist.
"The catch is that they have to decide whether they keep it or whether they gift it forward to one of their listeners," Kaplan said.
Pepsi will continue to build on the campaign throughout the end of the year, a spokesperson said, without sharing specific details on what the expansion will entail. The effort looks to preserve momentum Pepsi's business has picked up this year, in part thanks to doubling down on its marketing and advertising initiatives.
Parent company PepsiCo saw organic revenue climb 4.3% in Q3 earnings reported in October, with its beverage division experiencing similar gains. The marketer had upped media spending 12% by that point in the year, with omnichannel retail strategy cited as a growing focus.
"The increased advertising that we have is causing consumers to shop us more aggressively, and our customers are rewarding us with that space because they know that we can help them grow," PepsiCo CFO Hugh Johnston told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" at the time.