Have you seen the latest sports YouTube sensation, NBA Rookie of the Year (ROY) and Cleveland Cavalier point guard, @KyrieIrving as his alter ego, “Uncle Drew”? Pepsi Max published a YouTube campaign with the tagline, “A Zero Calorie Cola In Disguise” on May 18, 2012 – two days after Kyrie won the ROY award. The premise is that an old man – 60 years or older – named “Uncle Drew” is drawn onto the basketball court to replace an “injured” player during a Pepsi Max documentary being filmed. Uncle Drew starts off slow but then begins to school the opposing players and even dunks on them hard after some fancy dribbling.
The video reached over 10 million views with no media behind it. One of my co-workers sent me the video when it was in the nascent 2 million viewers stage and it is now sitting at over 12 million views. I cannot say I was a fan of the video, when I first saw it as I did not get the point, but obviously my usually keen content radar was off on this one and the public has spoken… they LOVE this video! By all accounts this is a social media success. Great young star, pushing a product in a very organic way (until the end where Pepsi Max logo and tagline is prominently displayed), with over 10 million organic views. The branded entertainment piece is the length of a short film (five-minutes – a lifetime on YouTube) and 80% of the viewers sat and watched at least four-minutes of it. It also reached the key and elusive target of males from 25-44 with over 82% penetration in this demographic. The video even received earned media from a number of online sources like Huffington Post. Last, but not least, it was filmed and produced at a very low cost., as compared to a usual ad. While I was at ESPN running their YouTube channel, I would have killed for a video like this. Especially something produced by our internal staff. Our most successful video in that vein also featured a rookie superstar, John Wall doing the Dougie at the NBA Rookies Camp with over 1.6 Million views, but we did not receive the additional earned media or twitter conversation.
So with all of this great success and high ROI, Pepsi Max does this strange thing and decides to spend money and place a :30 teaser ad during Games 1, 2, and 3 of the NBA Finals and to buy advertising space towards an “ESPN.com Takeover”. My question is: Why? The purpose of social media is to drive conversation and brand engagement at low cost and hopefully in organic ways. If this also relates to direct consumer purchase then it has hit all relevant goals. This campaign achieved that and much more. Let’s say that the commercial only ran once in each of these three games, the cost of this move is at minimum $1.5 Million or $500,000 per :30 ad. This does not even include the cost of the ESPN.com takeover or the additional editing costs to getting the 5-minute piece down to a :30 ad. Yes, Pepsi Max did receive more earned media because business publications wrote about the conversion and Uncle Drew did trend on Twitter, but was it worth it and doesn’t it just defeat the entire purpose of the original campaign?
At the end of the day, I would have loved to have had a fraction of that additional $1.5 million ad buy to show what Big Fuel could have done to drive the counts even higher on YouTube and drive the social conversation around Kyrie Irving, PepsiMax, Uncle Drew and “I Get Buckets” to a significant level.
These same aforementioned business publications are spouting how Pepsi Max has started a new paradigm where social only campaigns are moved to the larger screen and for all of to watch this trend carefully. I think this is a huge mistake, especially with the younger demographic that this campaign was trying to hit. At the end of the day, it is our job as advertisers and marketers to find cost effective and efficient ways to drive the conversation around our brands and our clients. To achieve this goal socially and then spend an inordinate amount of money to put it onto television with no real measure of ROI is a clear indicator of hubris and ego. Everyone wants to see his or her product on television or the movie screen, even if it would do just fine on the small screen. I would hope that marketers will take this lesson and learn that with just a little bit of spend they could drive the social message even farther and stretch out their marketing dollars significantly, and take those savings and put them towards another social project.