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Pepsi Refresh ProjectPepsi is staging a shock and awe campaign on traditional media by eschewing Super Bowl advertising for a $20 million social media campaign.

I’m sorry, do what now? One of the more iconic Super Bowl advertisers is leaving us? What about those 95.4 million viewers last year who are eagerly awaiting your next creative entry in the canon of ads that are often better than the game? That’s all well and good, but they’re joining the ranks of companies like Ford in shifting marketing funding to online channels.

Not only is Pepsi funneling $20 million into social media, they are actually giving that money away. In a move designed to attract attention, encourage participation, and forge a connection with its audience that has been lagging for years, the Pepsi Refresh Project will provide funding for user-submitted community improvement and philanthropic projects.

This transition is hardly surprising in the overall context of the sea change in marketing spending. Ford Motor Co. will direct 25% of its marketing budget into online media in 2010, following the success of its Fiesta social campaign.

The more cynical among us might posit that with carbonated beverages being identified as having a key role in obesity and other health problems, this is just damage control. But abandoning the Super Bowl? That’s just crazy, right?

Not according to Gary Dilts, former sales chief for Chrysler and current senior vice president of J.D. Power’s global automotive practice. Quoted in BusinessWeek, he said he would have thought them “crazy for starting such a marketing program 18 months ahead of showroom launch.” But, he added, “I thing the Fiesta campaign … is already a case study for any marketer in or out of the auto industry.”

So the old timers think these ideas are crazy. But some old dogs can learn new tricks, and companies like Ford and Pepsi are looking to earn their kibble as lead dogs.

Note: We here at Raidious are happy to help if you’d like to be like Pepsi and Ford

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