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The New Pepsi

Skinny Pepsi Can Launch Is Heavy With Controversy

By: Natalie Zmuda - Bio
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RSS feed Published: February 21, 2011 â?" Advertising Age

It's hard to imagine that a brand the size of Diet Pepsi spent only $500,000 on measured media in the past three years combined, but that's exactly what happened.

With the focus on programs such as Refresh Project and brands such as Pepsi Max, Diet Pepsi was pushed to the sidelines. The brand has been included in trademark campaigns -- it was featured in media buys for Refresh Project throughout last year -- but it's been four years since Diet Pepsi received dedicated attention. According to Kantar, Diet Pepsi spent $63 million on measured media in 2006, less than half that in 2007 and just a half-million dollars since then.

Surprisingly, sales have been steady despite the piddling advertising outlay. According to Beverage Digest, though volume has declined, the decline is in line with what's happening across the diet cola and carbonated soft-drink categories. "It's not that we haven't invested in Diet Pepsi, but everyone related [Refresh Project] to Pepsi," said Ami Irazabal, marketing director at Pepsi. "We are going to actually start talking to our consumer again. ... We have our loyal followers that are a specific psychographic, and we want to make sure we talk to them on a one-to-one level."

To that end, the brand is introducing a new package, the Skinny Can, and building a major marketing program around it, slated to run throughout 2011. The can will become part of Diet Pepsi's permanent lineup. (Pepsi's Skinny Can is a full 12 oz. serving. Competitor Coca-Cola has experimented with slimmer and shorter cans that are not a full 12 oz. in some markets.)

"The challenge is making sure that packaging is a legitimate way to do marketing," Ms. Irazabal said. "Sometimes people think innovation is about changing what's inside. But sometimes I think it's about celebrating what's inside in a different way."

Ads promote the can but also convey the idea of "getting the skinny" or the inside scoop on the latest in culture, fashion, style and design. The can will be available nationwide in March and will be touted with an array of media, including print, out-of-home, TV and digital buys. Sofia Vergara of "Modern Family" is featured in early print and out-of-home executions and is being considered, along with several other personalities, for TV ads, Ms. Irazabal said. She declined to comment on marketing spend for the effort, though she called it "substantial." TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles, is working on the campaign.

A slew of partnerships and retail promotions are also a part of the effort. A promotion that gives consumers $5 off a purchase at Target when they buy a four-pack of Skinny Cans and a People magazine is launching late this month. And Diet Pepsi was an official sponsor of New York Fashion Week, where the can was presented as a fashion item and handed out to the trendsetting crew that frequents runway shows.

To help conceive the effort, it formed a "Pop Culture Council," including personalities like Simon Doonan, creative ambassador for Barney's, and convened at Eventi Hotel in Manhattan in December. Because of contractual obligations, Diet Pepsi declined to name all those in attendance, but said the group included well-known designers and stylists. Ms. Irazabal said that the group was presented with various ideas and advertising concepts and told to "pull them apart and rebuild them."

"They were saying you need to stop thinking as a staple product and think as we think in the fashion and design industries," Ms. Irazabal said. "That's not our expertise, so we need to be smart enough and humble enough to call those that know better than us."

The effort is not without controversy. The National Eating Disorders Association put out a press release saying it "takes offense" to the idea. "Pepsi should be ashamed for declaring that skinny is to be celebrated," said Lynn Grefe, president-CEO of NEDA. Various blogs and news outlets have also decried the Skinny Can and a company press release that called the can "slim" and "attractive."

Ms. Irazabal says she anticipated some would respond negatively to the Skinny Can, adding that it's a topic her team addressed with the Pop Culture Council. The fashion industry, after all, is no stranger to controversies related to body shape. Because of those discussions, Ms. Irazabal says she's felt confident in responding to criticisms. "It's the new shape of a product. We're not talking about the form or shape of a woman," she said. "And it's also the marketing platform, getting the skinny, the inside scoop, on fashion, style and design."

Eric Gustavsen, founding partner at creative firm Graj & Gustavsen who has no connection to the project, said he expects controversy will blow over quickly. "It's more of a fun idea than it is derogatory to a group," he said, adding he expects consumers will gravitate toward the new can because it's novel. "This particular idea is simple enough and understandable enough that it may very well have mass appeal. It's cool and different. That doesn't mean it's going to redefine what a soda can shape is, but there's nothing wrong with breaking away and experimenting."


David Schwab Analyst Indianapolis, IN # 1 - Feb 21, 2011 9:33 AM

"It's the new shape of a product. We're not talking about the form or shape of a woman," she said." Right. And Joe Camel's head wasn't shaped like a penis.

WILLIAM AIRY Corporate Management (CEO, CMO, COO, CFO) Evergreen, CO # 2 - Feb 21, 2011 9:45 AM

This will fail for one reason: it shouts "I'm on a diet". People who drink diet sodas are probably overweight and are trying to save a few calories. But they don't want to make a big deal out of it. This can makes a big deal out of it.

JEFF MYERS Corporate Management (CEO, CMO, COO, CFO) Barnstable, MA

# 3 - Feb 21, 2011 11:06 AM

Won't work in vending machines -- source of about 10% of their business. Other than that, Mrs Lincoln. (Was Peter Arnell involved in this??)

DAVID HALL Attorney, Consultant CHEBOYGAN, mi # 4 - Feb 21, 2011 2:20 PM

Keeping it 'a full 12 ounces' is one thing, but selling it as a 4 pack with a price point similar to a 6 pack? BS, I say.

Charles McStroud Other Chicago, IL # 5 - Feb 21, 2011 2:28 PM

Yeah because sending a message out to dieters that they, like the can, need to be smaller to be acceptable is wonderful. I'm sure diabetics are also thrilled to be physically marginalized, too. Small = better Great marketing trick. Oh and it also gives the illusion that there's less product for the same price, at first glance. In short, I'll be skipping your product altogether.

Jeff Greenhouse Corporate Management (CEO, CMO, COO, CFO) Philadelphia , PA # 6 - Feb 22, 2011 7:46 AM

Oh boy... I smell another "New Coke" fiasco. Let's add on to the previous comments that: 1) The taller can means more metal surface area to volume, causing the contents to warm up faster in the air or in your hand. 2) Wouldn't a thinner can make the drinker look wider by comparison? ;-) Packaging innovation can be powerful, but I don't think this will be a hit. - Jeff Greenhouse

Scott Herskowitz Other Hoboken, NJ # 7 - Feb 22, 2011 8:45 AM

In addition to the issue with vending machines MCG153 mentioned, these may not fit well on some store shelves. If retailers don't accept the new form factor, it won't even matter what consumers think.

Stephen Gary Corporate Management (CEO, CMO, COO, CFO) Havertown, PA

# 8 - Feb 22, 2011 9:12 AM

Why not? Lots of consumers dream of having a skinny can. Next, Buttocks-shaped packs for Small Butts cigarettes, a similarly shaped tube with lanolin cream for Smooth Cheeks and so forth. [email address removed by system]

Kris Adler Ad Agency Marketing, Market Research New York, NY # 9 - Feb 22, 2011 9:16 AM

Aside from all the social issues mentioned above, I believe it will be problematic from a practical standpoint. As mentioned, it will not fit easily between all the other sodas on store shelves unless everyone switches to slim cans. And then there's the whole question of less bang for the buck since it now comes in a four pack. That being said, there could be some sort of psychological effect that makes people believe they are drinking less soda in a slimmer can. Pepsi had to have done some research with positive results before rolling this out. The question is, will the research results play out in the market... -Kris Adler by Luminosity Marketing For insights on how 3D printing can change packaging and products in the future, check out:

PATRICK SCULLIN Creative/Production ATLANTA, GA # 10 - Feb 22, 2011 9:21 AM

And what about big, fat cup holders? Oh, that's right-- they have more room to contain the spill.

David Wilson Creative/Production Rochester, NY # 11 - Feb 22, 2011 9:49 AM

WILLIAM: I Disagree. Plenty of perfectly fit people drink the diet sodas merely to avoid the unnecessary calories in the non-diet versions. "Diet" sodas are no longer just for "Dieters", ie. people trying to lose weight. Pepsi's own advertising has reflected this with plenty of fun advertising for Diet Pepsi that has absolutely to do with fitness or weight loss. Many people actually prefer the taste.

Roman Tsukerman Creative/Production New York, NY # 12 - Feb 22, 2011 10:19 AM

That a manufacturer changing the shape of its can is causing such existential angst and outright hostility is as frightening as it is hilarious. Woe, for it shall not fit upon the shelves! Woe, for it speaks the hated "S" word! Society will crumble! Hark the coming of the other three horsemen! My one hope is that Pepsi stand tall (Ha!) and not allow the naddering nabobs of negativism to control its products and therefore its future.

Howie G Corporate Management (CEO, CMO, COO, CFO) New York, NY # 13 - Feb 22, 2011 12:02 PM

All the dissension here is ridunkulous. Drinking diet pepsi vs regular soda if that is your choice will help you have lower calorie intake. I see nothing about the can to suggest anything other than 'less calories vs regular soda'. We have an obesity problem not a skinny problem in the US. Get over it. Brilliant move by Pepsi. My only concern is it fitting into some car cup holders and will it tip over.

Craig Cooper Creative/Production, NY # 14 - Feb 22, 2011 12:07 PM

This will go away but only because of guff from bottlers and merchants.

kevin lee Other San Francisco, Ca # 15 - Feb 22, 2011 12:49 PM

i think girls will like it

elizabeth kulin Other san francisco, # 16 - Feb 22, 2011 1:26 PM

All they need is celebrity brand ambassadors to endorse the product to fix this marketing hick up.

Daniel Jeffries Attorney, Consultant London, # 17 - Feb 22, 2011 2:23 PM

..yet having a chain called 'fat burger' is acceptable???? The US has a massive (pardon the pun) obesity problem and if this can somehow convinces even one person to reflect on their calorific intake then it will be working.

Fran Kusala Director/Manager of Marketing/Advertising Cincinnati, OH # 18 - Feb 22, 2011 2:39 PM

Do we really think the can not fitting properly in car cup holders and store shelves is a critical issue? Has anyone considered the much more important 'can cozy' impact?? Remember when Bud Select switched to the skinny can... then had to stop because everyone screamed that it looked like an energy drink can?? No? Well I do, because it would not fit my beer can cozy! So those marketing geniuses came up with a skinny can cozy! Sadly AB then went back to the fat can and my skinny can cozy became useless. I am so glad I didn't throw it away. The skinny can cozy is relevant again! Thank you Diet Pepsi

Alex White Other Campbell, CA # 19 - Feb 22, 2011 4:52 PM

New packaging can always be a tricky situation to deal with. Consumers like the familiar and can sometimes disagree with new changes from brands they love. What was so wrong with Diet Pepsi before all of this? A little facelift is always nice, but this was not the direction they needed to go in. And using Sofia Vergara? She was not the right fit for the reveal of the new "skinny can." Sofia is a curvy, sexy woman--she in no way embodies the new design of the can (thank god). Diet Pepsi's new can reminds me of the skeletal runway models of the 1990s!

Michael Lashford Creative/Production San Francisco, CA # 20 - Feb 23, 2011 4:41 PM

Just put horizontal stripes on the can and that should help with some of the "skinny" controversy.

Erica Santiago Corporate Management (CEO, CMO, COO, CFO) naples, fl # 21 - Feb 24, 2011 10:31 PM

Now bottles are being sized up for wardrobe? Wow..that's silly. I think it says a lot about our society when a bottle has to worry about fitting in it's skinny jeans. I'm sure it will cost more to purchase. Either way i'm still going to start up my car, drive to the nearest gas station and use my Global-Fleet Card at the pump. Life goes on... With all of the skinny pepsi mumbo's nice to know that i can still over pay for fuel. At least with my global-fleet fuel card I don't have to worry about over paying cc fees...



1. Summary
2. Importance
3. Opinion
4. Best comment
5. Worst comment

1. Summary: Summarize the article. You must include a short quote and a citation from the article. You may not use any other reference in your writing, and you may not use any of these phrases in your writing: the article, the author, the publisher.
2. Importance: State the importance of the article. The importance focuses on the relevance of the article. It explains why the article was worth printing, and what effect the article has on the company, industry, or society. The importance contains at least one correctly written citation from the article, and the citation may not be the same one used in the summary. You may not use any other reference. In your writing, you may not use any of these phrases: the article, the author, the publisher.
3. Opinion: State your opinion of the article. You may not use any of these in your writing: I, me, my, we, our, writer, author.
4. Best comment: Which reader comment did you find to be the best written comment? State the name of the author, and why you chose that specific comment. You may not use any of these in your writing: I, me, my, we, our, writer, author.
5. Worst comment: Which reader comment did you find to be the worst written comment? State the name of the author, and why you chose that specific comment.

Solution Preview

For our first paragraph, the summary for the article, we must do exactly that, summarize the article. The subject is the new shape for the Diet Pepsi can. Designers have determined that a "skinny" can will appeal to more drinkers of Pepsi products and possibly lure them away from regular Pepsi and to Diet Pepsi. Comments have shown the negative view taken on some fronts and in particular, Alex White of Campbell company states, "Consumers like the familiar..." indicating that Diet Pepsi customers may indeed be the first to reject the new packaging. (Citation should follow APA guidelines). A valuable citation from the article itself: "Surprisingly, sales have been steady despite the piddling advertising outlay." Ami Irazabel. Quote correctly by APA and include citation at end of your work. A big question raised by this quote is, if sales are steady, why are we messing with what isn't broken? One major point made is that the Pepsi Company feels they need to appeal to fashion designers to help with a marketing idea for a Pepsi product, dealing only with the outside "look" of the product.

These should be good ideas to create your summary ...

Solution Summary

Analysis of Pepsi's introduction of the "Skinny Can" for Diet Pepsi.