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When your brand abandons you, and I’m talking about you PEPSI MAX

September 9, 2010

As a marketer working in the social media space, I spend a fair amount of time talking to colleagues and others about how I engage with my community of customers.  How THEY not I determine what my brand is.  How THEY are the ones who are out there making my brand what it is.  All good stuff that I firmly believe in. 

But what happens when the experience is personal, and a brand I like decides it doesn’t want to follow my direction anymore?  Take the case of Pepsi Max, formerly known as Diet Pepsi Max.  When it came out in 2007, it was marketed as having twice the caffeine and none of the sugar.  Those who know me may or may not be aware of my love-hate relationship with soda. Sure, people say it’s not healthy, it’s bad for you, and I tend to agree, but at the same time my motto is “anything in moderation”.  A soda a day is not going to be the end of me.  Especially when it’s as yummy and caffeine-full as Pepsi Max!  It was like a diet version of Jolt Cola.  Out of all the soft drinks out there, this is definitely my favorite taste wise.  I recall almost firing a co-worker when he bought the last twelve pack of it at a Walgreens in Orlando….trade shows call for the MAX!

Then, all of a sudden, Pepsi moved the branding to position Max as the “diet cola for men.”  Not just any men.  MANLY men.  Which would have been fine if it included men who like to stay up and hand code HTML into the wee hours like the Jolt Cola demographic.  But it wasn’t.  It was targeting men who flip between NASCAR and the tractor pulls while eating beef jerky and fixing their car engines.  In other words, not even kinda sorta me.

Where does that leave me as a consumer?  Do I have a problem breaking out a can of Max in public?  Do I think maybe this isn’t the product for me?  So far, none of this has happened.  I still drink it when I need a pick me up, and I don’t think it makes me any less of a woman when I swig from the bottle in public. 

It is however an interesting case of what happens when you switch your positioning and intentionally exclude a demographic from your marketing.  Do you do this at the risk of losing a key demographic you never knew about?  In the case of Pepsi, I am confident that they have done extensive research showing that this product positioning would enhance, not detract from sales.  And if I do feel alienated, they have about 100 other soda brands I can move to and still stay within the Pepsi world.  Maybe they’d prefer me to do that rather than estrogen up their work on their Max brand.  Either way, I’m an informed enough consumer and marketer to know that I like what I like, branding be damned.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2010 2:20 pm

    I think you should start a meme of women posting pictures of themselves drinking Pepsi Max in long, flowing dresses while holding bunnies and watching Oprah.

  2. September 9, 2010 2:38 pm

    Not a bad idea. Pepsi Max meets the feminine hygiene commercial.

  3. September 9, 2010 4:01 pm

    I feel that way about GoDaddy, the domain registrar. They have good prices and I’ve never had a problem with their services, but they have ads featuring Danica Patrick in the shower and tell people to go online to see the dirtier version. I’ve seriously thought about leaving them and getting another registrar because I hate their ads so much. Perhaps someday I will actually do it.

  4. Suzanne permalink
    September 9, 2010 6:04 pm

    It’s wrong on many levels, and I am glad you are publicizing this. I agree with Jennette about Go Daddy too. I am their customer as well and have felt the same way. I feel this way often about beer commercials. I am Woman, and I like beer!

    On the other hand, I have a gripe with Cooking Light magazine in that they target women. The cover and title appear gender-neutral, but then you open it and find not only ads for women’s products (make-up and such) but even beauty articles and exercise articles that always feature women. I informed them that I found this irritating but nothing has changed and their demographic won’t either.

    I believe that the practice of alienating customers by gender, unless the product really needs to be (talking maxi-pads here), is going to lose rather than gain customers, but even if that’s not true, it still pisses me off.

  5. September 10, 2010 9:23 am

    Great points…Jennette, I use GoDaddy, but I never talk about it, because so many, including myself, are so offended by their commercials. But the customer service has been good, so who knows if I like you will ever leave. Suzanne, can you think of any companies that market beer to women? I’m trying to, and outside of something with fake lime, which I would never drink, I can’t think of anything.

  6. September 10, 2010 6:45 pm

    Well I wasn’t aware that Pepsi Max had twice the Caffeine. I thought it was their answer to Coke ZERO. But to up and switch? Weird since Everyone knows that manly men need more caffeine. I’m thinking that it’s the All night Coders needing the boost, not the truck pullers. Besides real men drink RockStar anyway!

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