Social Media Marketing Is Advertising, And Advertising Is Not All Powerful

Diet Coke has surpassed Pepsi as the No. 2 most popular carbonated soft drink in the U.S.

According to Fortune, the shift has nothing whatsoever to do with Pepsi’s oft-reported investment in social media marketing. The entire category is down thanks to concerns about calories and the rise of bottled water as a viable alternative.

So why is our friend, Bob Hoffman, using Pepsi’s decline to lament the rise of social media marketing? Because that’s his angle.

The Refresh Project accomplished everything a social media program is expected to: Over 80 million votes were registered; almost 3.5 million “likes” on the Pepsi Facebook page; almost 60,000 Twitter followers. The only thing it failed to do was sell Pepsi.

It achieved all the false goals and failed to achieve the only legitimate one.

Hoffman’s post has generated 53 comments wherein the various pluses and minuses of social media are debated. Which is fine, but what’s the point of going on about which advertising format has failed Pepsi? Advertising is merely one of the factors not working for the brand at the moment. It’s not like Pepsi has abstained from running TV spots. The brand runs TV and invests in social media and cause-related marketing, which like TV are meant to create desire for the product. But there are times when advertising isn’t the problem, nor the answer.

Personally, I’m a big fan of Pepsi’s Refresh Project, but I prefer the taste of Coca-Cola. Given a choice I will always choose Coke over Pepsi and no advertising, brand-sponsored content or mind blowing event will move me from that preference.

Previously on AdPulp: Pepsi Is Intent On “A New And Different Way To Market” | Refresh Everything, Including Your Browser | Knorpp Hosts Fireside Chat With Hoffman, Burn, Forrester and Briody

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Bob Hoffman says:

    My Dear Friend,

    I’ve just read the Fortune article 3 times and I’m having trouble finding the place where Fortune says “the shift has nothing whatsoever to do with Pepsi’s oft-reported investment in social media marketing.”

    As a matter of fact, I can’t find anywhere in the article that social media is even mentioned.



    • Here, let me rewrite it for you.

      According to Fortune, the entire category is down thanks to concerns about calories and the rise of bottled water as a viable alternative.

      The fact that social media isn’t mentioned by Fortune is the whole point. Sometimes it’s what you don’t say…

      • Bob Hoffman says:

        C’mon David, you’re too smart for this.

        The whole category may be down, but Pepsi is down WAY more than Coke, Diet Pepsi is down WAY more than Diet Coke and the Pepsi portfolio is down WAY more than last year.

        Saying this is due to the whole category being down doesn’t even pass the giggle test.

        • Actually, I’d like to believe we’re both too smart for an argument like this. But the facts say something else.

          • Bob Hoffman says:

            The facts say that Pepsi’s decline was ten times the industry’s decline. The industry declined about .5%, Pepsi declined about 5%.

          • The facts also say you love to poke people with a hot TV stick. But that doesn’t make Pepsi’s decline social media marketing’s fault.

            Let me ask you about another challenger brand–BK. BK has had the benefit of great TV advertising and lots of it, yet their sales are down for the last six quarters straight.

            As the headline above states, “Advertising Is Not All Powerful.”

  2. Dr. Pepper says:

    I’d like to hold a virtual R.C. Cola Summit between Bob and David, because I believe they are both right and wrong. Yes, Pepsi is falling. But can it be attributed to the social media efforts? Hard to say. After all, I would contend Pepsi’s descent started even when it was still doing lots of traditional advertising. Remember the launch of its new logo, with all the lame commercials and billboards? That seems like an example of how bad advertising – even with strong media weight – will still fail to move the needle, and actually accelerate the downfall. On the flipside, Bob is probably right that the shift to social media was a failure. But I also contend it had to do with the concept. I’ve never cared for the Refresh bullshit. Hey, David actually liked it, but not enough to be persuaded to replace his Coke with Pepsi. So David sorta does prove the social media campaign was ineffective. In the end, though, I contend the common issue boils down to concept. Specifically, Pepsi has been unable to hatch a compelling concept – regardless of whether it gets launched via traditional advertising or social media. It’s a shame, as back in the day, Pepsi consistently beat Coke’s ass in the concept competition. Then again, they have never managed to move from being number two – and now they’re number three behind Diet Coke. Who’s to blame? Not the medium, but the message. Or lack of message.

    • Score on for Dr. Pepper/Ronald McDonald/High Jive! The point about no concept, or poor concept, goes to the heart of what I’m saying in the post–blame advertising if you must, but don’t just blame one form of advertising.