It is too bad Michael Jackson is no longer around to help Pepsi sell sodas to the world. Why? Well, for one thing Pepsi’s first real engagement of the Web, and endeavor into altruistic public relations has gotten off to a rocky start. Pepsi Refresh, the company’s $20 million dollar gamble on social media, has pretty much failed the Web 2.0 launch test – make sure your site does not scram when the people arrive. Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch reported yesterday on the data and security debacle at Pepsi’s site. This fumbling start of a marketing campaign has to rank up there with the worst ever.
By mixing, matching and spitting out user personal data, Pepsi Refresh pretty much spewed cola on anyone submitting their brainchildren for voting in what “should have been” one of the most interesting social media experiments to date. According to the reports Pepsi’s technology in gather submissions somehow convoluted entires for the $20 million in grants thereby compromising entrant’s data, making a sort of soup sandwich out of genuine ideas and even cross e-mailing of pertinent data between entrants? Maybe calling this a cola fizz rather than a soup sandwich is better?
Pepsi’s idea has other holes in it besides this relative “shaking of the can” before opening. For one thing, the merit of the ideas submitted to win up to $250,000 in grants is appears to be a secondary consideration to the number of votes. From what I could glean, it will only take a notable Twitter celebrity to skew the voting, or some such other manipulation of the vote. Voters can cast at least one vote per day for a given submission, with the only apparent limitation being IP limitations per day. Pete Cashmore of Mashable, or even TechCrunch, could theoretically Tweet themselves into a quarter of a million for submitting the idea “Make Mashable Richer” or some such novel notion. At least this seems feasible on reading the FAQ at Pepsi Refresh.
If MJ were still around then Pepsi could stick with what they have been good at in the past, making effective commercials. The Internet is not TV after all, even as much as big marketing firms would like it to be. Well, once Pepsi whips their tech team into place the experiment can continue. For now trying to submit an idea introduces Web citizens to the all familiar:
We’re sorry for the inconvenience, the application form is temporarily unavailable. Please check back shortly or look for notifications via Facebook and Twitter.
Once the smoke clears from all the thinking going no in the back-end of the site, eager contestants can start lining up their social media campaigns for the cash. I just hope someone with a great idea has a huge social network going on. Early winner predictions? A mommy blogger with the idea to make Zhu Zhu Pets mandatory for children under 5. That would be a quarter of a mil well spent. Pepsi may not make the world a better place for everyone, but a few might be better off.