Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to school with PepsiCo stealth marketing?

I recently blogged about questions regarding how PepsiCo's voluntary beverage guidelines, announced in March, would be implemented in schools given that contracts are made at the local level. Now with back- to-school in full swing, I have even more questions about how PepsiCo may be using stealth marketing techniques to gain access to that coveted captive K-12 audience.

Today, the company announced a new program it calls Score for Your School. From the press release:

PepsiCo's Frito-Lay North America business unit kicks-off high school football season with the "Score for Your School" program for Texans only that invites fans to help schools win up to a $10,000 donation for their sports programs. Beginning today, Texas fans can visit www.scoreforyourschool.com, enter the 9-digit product code from ANY Frito-Lay product (chips, dips, salsa and more) and then select the Texas high school of their choice. 
So in order to even vote for your school, you have to purchase a product. How nice of Frito-Lay to "invite" fans to buy Fritos, Doritos, Tostitos, Cheetos, Lays, etc. But it's "ANY" product, so generous! Why just Texas schools? The company's marketing guy explains: "Frito-Lay snacks and high school football are a Texas tradition," said Michael Del Pozzo, director, marketing, Frito-Lay North America.

Frito-Lay snacks are a Texas tradition? I will let the words of someone who replied to me on Twitter today speak to that: "Being that TX has a high obesity rate, this sure crushes any efforts being made 2 teach kids about eating healthy!!!" In other words, that's one tradition Texas can do without. Frito-Lay's Del Pozzo continues:
As high school sports programs face many challenges, we thought this promotion would be an easy and fun way for fans to help. Now, each single purchase can add up for a chance to win up to $10,000 for their school when they go online and 'Score for their School'.
How thoughtful of Frito-Lay to create a fun and easy way for fans to help sports programs. Couldn't have anything to do with how many more chips would get sold would it? Because if the company really cared, how about just sending a check to each Texas high school football team instead? This program, which runs through December 31, is capped at $90,000 in donations, a drop in the bucket for the nation's largest salty snack purveyor.

But this marketing-disguised-as-philanthropy is by now old territory for PepsiCo. For the past year, the company has been gaining much positive PR with its ubiquitous Pepsi Refresh donation program. If you're like me, you've been annoyed by friends and colleagues begging you to vote for their nonprofit or other worthy cause, like a high school popularity contest.

Last week, a parochial elementary school in Alton, Illinois held a "thank you assembly" for Pepsi employees after the school won a Refresh Everything grant of $25,000 to purchase computers. The article describing the event is worth checking out for the image of little 6-year old Matthew Dixon holding a "thank-you Pepsi" sign; yes 6. The reporter explains how the youngsters showed Pepsi employees their gratitude:
The entire school signed a large, thank-you poster, and the younger students made individual thank-you drawings in red, white and blue, the soda brand's colors. [my emphasis] Teachers wore turquoise shirts that read, "Every Pepsi Refreshes the World," and the children pinned on Pepsi buttons....

The highlight of the 15-minute assembly in the gymnasium came when Father Delix Michel riled up the youngsters with a T-shirt toss. Similar to professional baseball games - but minus the slingshot - Michel showed a good pitching arm as he deftly threw Pepsi shirts to all areas where students were sitting, including landing one shirt in the back row. Some of the shirts landed in the students' laps.
A priest handing out Pepsi T-shirts, it doesn't get any better than that for positive PR. Now it's great that PepsiCo wants to give back to the community, but there is only one word for this and it's not philanthropy, it's branding. It's sad that schools feel they must participate and don't see through it.

The Pepsi Refresh website has an entire section devoted to education. Please let me know if your school is involved in either of these stealth marketing campaigns. Pepsi does not belong in schools, whether it's soda vending machines or voting contests.


Sue Carney said...

I posted a link to this piece from mt fb page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/How-Marketers-Target-Teens-Why-Its-Not-Cool-and-What-You-Can-Do-About-It/147948751897678?ref=ts). Thanks so much for this piece. My school is partnering with some local fast food restaurants and the staff just think it's really great that we are getting free stuff. It's helpful to have the reasons why this is harmful explained so clearly. Great piece Michelle!

Anthro said...

Thanks once again Michelle for pulling the curtain and exposing the Wizard.

I have been volunteering for a local political campaign staffed largely by college students. One of them resigned, having found a job in--marketing! I told him point blank that I sincerely hoped he would not be "marketing" anything harmful to children. He seemed dismayed and a discussion ensued that I hope stays with him as he moves through this career path. I paraphrased liberally from your work as well as that of Marion Nestle.

Megan (@MissHealth) said...

While I generally oppose partnerships between public health organizations and unhealthy food companies (aka: most food companies), I understand why nonprofits have flocked to Pepsi Refresh in this economy, when times are tight and Pepsi Refresh offers a chance of much-needed funding so they can continue to help those in need. I'm just happy that the Pepsi Refresh Project does not have strings attached insofar as product purchases go. And I'm also glad that PepsiCo is at least doing something to help the world, because it is certainly doing enough harm to it. Of course, it is doing wonders PR-wise for PepsiCo as well, and I realize that.

That said, the Score for Your School program is outrageous. I'm glad you posted this - it somehow missed my radar! It essentially turns Texas into one big eating contest. Whichever school can eat the most Fritos, Doritos, Tostitos, Cheetos, Lays, etc., will win $10,000 for their sports programs - but at what long-term cost to society, and Texas' public health?

Programs such as Score for Your School should really not be permitted, and should be exposed for what they are - stealth marketing that is incredibly detrimental to our society and will only undue any progress we ever make on the obesity front.

Michele Simon said...

Megan, it's interesting to me that you make a distinction between the 2 Pepsi programs; that just shows what a coup Pepsi Refresh is.

Of course it's understandable that cash-strapped nonprofits would participate, and that is exactly what Pepsi is counting on. And don't you think all that good feeling that is being generated will result in increased sales of Pepsi's worst products, the same ones that are being promoted in the Texas program?

I was just in a grocery store and noticed that cases of Pepsi now sport the "Do GOOD" message of the Pepsi Refresh program, what a great tie-in: Buy 24 cans of Pepsi to save the world. So while there may officially be "no strings attached" for Pepsi the only important string is return on its investment.

SoFresh&SoClean said...

Michele you should challenge yourself to apply for a Refresh grant. Read the fine print first cuz Application Guideline 7b Clause 6 says "Applications cannot to any degree disparage or denigrate a product, service, person, company or organization including, but not limited to, Sponsor."

Question, Is Pepsi's lobbying part of the "Refresh Everything" spirit?

And while they are allowing healthy eating ideas into the Refresh, did you know that the CEO doesn't think obesity is related to diet?http://www.fooducate.com/blog/2010/05/01/pepsico-ceo-if-all-consumers-exercised-obesity-wouldnt-exist/

Meanwhile, MSNBC's @DylanRatigan does a great job holding a bottle of Pepsi while he gives 'em a free informercial via Max Schorr of GOOD INC and Kara Lubin of 100 Mile Club http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31510813/#38791046

Maybe we should all just vote for the Horror Film Fest since that's what this Pepsi campaign is, right?

See also:
Lyn Pentecost: Pimping for Pepsi? I'd Rather Sell Cupcakes!

Advertise Like You Give A Damn by Diana Lind

#UnRefreshing How Pepsi’s Cause Marketing Annoys Me

Why I Stopped Asking You to Vote for NeighborGoods in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge http://www.huffingtonpost.com/micki-krimmel/why-i-stopped-asking-you-_b_694349.html

Liz D said...

Completely off topic but I'm pretty sure that there should be a no purchase option to obtain codes?

Just started reading your blog today and I am intrigued and delighted to see someone that is so proactive.

As long as there is money to be made "food" companies will put profit before people.

sweetbird said...

You know, Pepsi may not be the ideal corporation, but who else is stepping up to offer grants like this? A dear friend of mine just won a $10k grant from Pepsi to send her 6th grade class to an environmental awareness school. She is now able to offer low-income students, who would have never been able to go, scholarships for the week-long study program. I don't like junk food any more than the next person, but these promotions can't simply be branded in black and white. Until an unblemished entity with the financial might of Pepsi stands up to offer the same hope to communities across the nation, I'll be pleased that they are at least doing what they are doing.

Michele Simon said...

sweetbird, I hear your frustration and agree that those are worthy causes, but why is the ONLY way to support them by helping Pepsi market its unhealthy products?

I can think of some other ways, like lobbying Congress to give more money to education. I know this sounds daunting, and voting on the Pepsi site is so much easier, but that's exactly what companies are after: to keep us all distracted from changing public policy such that the ONLY way to fund programs is this way, and they are heroes.

We need a more engaged citizenry, to organize to get political.

DoesntBuyIt said...

@Sweetbird: no. There is no way to whitewash this campaign, no matter what other, better campaigns PepsiCo might have run or might run later. Making charity contingent on a purchase is not right. (The fact that the purchase is straight-up bad for you just makes it worse!)

Bettina at The Lunch Tray said...

Hi - just discovered your site. So glad to have found you. As you'll see from this post on today's Lunch Tray, you and I are very much on the same page: