The cola wars are heating up again between Coke and Pepsi with an onslaught of new commercials, print and online. But for the first time in nearly 50 years, the flagship Pepsi brand, along with Gatorade, is being handled by a new agency, TBWAChiatDay in Los Angeles.

The shift marks a radical change for the brand, not just because of its longstanding relationship with its former agency, but because of its new slogan, “Refresh everything,” which it also has applied to itself. Everything including the logo, packaging, slogans and ad campaigns have been revamped to show a more youthful and vibrant approach. Call it the Obama effect. The following are excerpts of our conversation with chairman and chief creative officer Lee Clow about Pepsi and the new wave of optimism spreading among young consumers.

We have a few different young brands, and I think every young brand is going to draft off of the optimism of this new generation. So much of the energy is from these young people who came out and created a movement that basically overrode the notion that the country is run by old white guys. And so I think every young brand that somehow doesn’t celebrate the optimism of Barack Obama becoming President is crazy.

We [did] some fun stuff around the Presidential Inauguration with Pepsi, which has always been about youth and the next generation. So it’s impacting the work that we’re doing, and I think you’ll see a lot of young brands that want to have fun and be optimistic, use that as the wind in their sails.

We happen to have been really lucky because as we went into this recession, we ended up having some really good wins. So everybody’s busy and everybody’s energized and everybody has jobs, so we’re not suffering as much as some people are.

But part of the job is going to be keeping our clients focused on the 
opportunities for continuing to do marketing and advertising. I’ve always been a believer that offense is better than defense, so even when you’re coming into a difficult period, you have to find some way of aggressively attacking the problem rather than playing defense and start throwing people overboard. And if you look at the history of recessions, very often some very interesting companies are born and some very imaginative ideas come out of difficult times. So I always look at these kinds of things as the glass is half full rather than half empty, and I think anyone who does the opposite is making a big mistake.

We’re a company that loves brands, and finding the soul of a brand and capturing it and delivering it in this form that I call “media arts” has been something that I’ve been doing for four or five years, and it’s starting to resonate with clients and brands who are either watching what we’re doing or when we sit down and start to talk about the opportunities that we see.

We sat down with Gatorade, and they knew they wanted to do something different, because what they had historically done wasn’t working anymore. They basically gave us an opportunity to start from the very foundation. I said, “The first thing we want to do is redesign the packaging. The packaging is who you are, and it’s part of what’s pulling you back and keeping you in the ‘my dad’s sports drink’ column.” So they opened up the opportunity for us to take responsibility for lots of different aspects of the brand and not just do some new commercials or some ads. And as we wrapped our arms around all the things a brand like Gatorade could do and should do to find a new voice, the people at Pepsi that were watching said, this would apply to Pepsi as well. So we had the same opportunity with them as well.

The way we approach brands is starting to make a lot of sense to companies that are realizing that the old advertising model doesn’t work anymore—TV ads and print ads and some coupons. Orchestrating all the actions of a brand is how you have to go to market, and that’s what we’ve been doing for a while for a number of brands and we’re getting the opportunity to do it with some more brands.

People have been talking about online and digital versus analog and integration and a bunch of these old ways of looking at advertising. The reality is, it’s not like it’s going to shift from old media to new media. The shift is, it’s moving from a controlled monologue to a wide-open dialog. It used to be that we could control the conversation, but now we have to orchestrate everything a brand does, because everything a brand does is responded to by the audience. They can either reinforce the brand or they can give them a positive sense of who or what they think the brand is or they can undermine messages that you hear that are contradicted by messages you hear somewhere else. For example, the Apple store is the best ad Apple’s ever done. We’ve done some good commercials, but that’s the way the world is now. You’ve got to do some genius things that basically let people walk into your brand. So whether it’s the Internet, whether it’s stores, or how you package your product, or films that you do that live online or on TV, it all is the future of what we have to do for a living. And if we get cubby holed into just doing TV commercials, that’s what’s doomed. But the idea of orchestrating brands and all their actions is the fun and excitement that I see for the future.

Making a film that goes to Sundance that’s the back story of a brand is just as valid as some kind of crazy web film that people pass around and think is as cool on YouTube as a 30-second commercial that runs on prime-time or the Super Bowl.

To read more of Brand Reboot, pick up the latest issue of one.a magazine.

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