Pepsi has launched a new iPhone app called  ‘Amp up Before you Score’ which is causing a stir in the social media world.  www.Mashable.com  published an article called

Alienate Your Female Customers? Pepsi Has An App For That

The issue being discussed is an iPhone App that  promotes a Pepsi Brand called Amp can be downloaded for free. It offers to  find information and local restaurants that would aid in developing a relationship with a  woman. But it is more than a bit edgy in that it  also offers pick up lines: it has a ‘brag list’ where the user can enter details of their conquests and then integrates well enough to post  them on Facebook or Twitter.  It divides women into 24 types, customizing the approach to  each type.  The  Youtube video of the application has been seen over 160,000 times.

The application was released last week and already it has gone viral with mixed responses, often divided by sex. Pepsico has apologized on Twitter for any offense its application caused and thanking the community for its feedback  but as of  Wednesday Oct 14, 2009, the app has not been taken down.

One has to wonder what Pepsico and the leaders of the Amp product were trying to do. They have certainly caused outrage amongst both men and women for stereotyping and degrading women..ie the whole implication of scoring is a win / lose scenario.

Was this a mistake or was the controversy was planned? In my view, it was planned.  I cannot imagine that an iPhone app  like this was an accident of an overzealous product manager with a great idea that slipped through the ‘management oversight’. One would normally expect of a consumer packaged goods company like Pepsico to have an industrial strength process that requires management scrutiny and sign offs before a new launch  into the marketplace. The CEO of Pepsico is a woman!

My assessment is that is iPhone app was a  calculated public relationship ploy designed to get buzz in social media but which the company hopes will die down  eventually. In the meantime, the buzz will create curiosity and drive more sales of the Amp product.

A customer satisfaction professional would have difficulty  being heard when working with an organization when something this controversial is being contimplated.  The target audience may have been males in their 20s and 30s. But the new world of social media and blogs means you cannot keep this limited to a target audience.  Pepsi’s customers and shareholders are all prospective consumers of Pepsi’s other brands. There are other stakeholders as well, suppliers, bankers, investors who may be offended by this activity, despite the fact that it may drive sales in ONE of Pepsi’s brands. What affect could that offense create for Pepsico? Clearly they think it is minimal.

The point of this article is to look at the broader issue.

1.Brands in a company no longer exist in a vacuum, separated from the parent company. You will notice that the apology came with a hashtag of #pepsifail which means that the problem is being attributed back to the bigger Brand..ie Pepsi.

2. There is no such thing as a pilot any more.  A company used to be able to introduce something quietly, in a small market, test something, check out customer feedback but that is no longer easily done with the reach of social media and the web.

3. The public at large will be watching what an organization does (apologize) and does not do (withdraw the application). It remains to be seen how much damage this will do to the overall Pepsi  brand image.

What is your opinion? Are the risks worth the possible alienation of the broader stakeholders?

As of Oct 23, 2009, Pepsi has removed the Iphone  application called “Amp Up Before you Score’ with the comment “We’ve listened to a variety of audiences and determined this was the most appropriate course of action.” Interestingly the buzz about the application had died down and that’s when Pepsi decided to pull the application. The application had performed its mission. It created controversy and free publicity. And then, like a good corporate citizen, it creates the appearance of having  listened to its public and withdrew the application.
Will this affect Pepsi’s marketshare overall or its stock price. Let’s watch this one.

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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

2 Responses to “Customer Satisfaction debacle or PR Stunt – Pepsico Iphone App – ‘Before you score’”

  1. Rudy Vidal Says:

    Adele,
    thank you for your post on this issue. I have been waiting to see the outcome with great interest. I believe it is not an issue of risk vs. opportunity. It is an issue about authenticity in our brand management. As you mention, pilots are over. Technology and social media have made consumer visibility into the authenticity to our brand promise essential to achieving brand loyalty. The question is; Is Pepsi being authentic. If they are then contention, potential objectification of Women and a world where all that matters is getting more of what you want, should be part of the brand promise. If it is not, they they are certainly not being authentic. This is a Loose/Loose situation for Pepsi. The marketing paradigm has already shifted, Pepsi has not.

    Thanks for the post.
    http:/rudyvidal.net

  2. Adele Says:

    Rudy

    Thank you for your comment. I agree that the marketing paradigm has changed. Companies need to adjust. This may be one of Pepsi’s tests (a toe in the water). I have read several articles about it and there mixed reaction. Some readers think the app is ‘no big deal’, much ‘ado about nothing’, most women and some men are offended. Still others think this is a media ploy…ie there is no such thing as ‘bad publicity’. Any free publicity is welcome…ask for forgiveness later.

    I am still watching this one, as you are. And I am sure other Consumer Package Goods companies and other specialists in advertising and marketing will be watching this too.

    Thanks again for your post.

    Adele

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