If you’re visiting Times Square you can interact with them on a billboard. If you follow any number of celebrities, you will see them in their posts. If you’re buying groceries in Moscow, they’re on display. Whether you’re thirsty in Sydney or Lahore, Bangkok or Paris, Tokyo or Toronto, a cold one is steps away. They are the globe’s biggest marketing initiative for 2016. “They” are pepsiMoji. And they came from Canada.
In early 2015, Pepsi Canada held a pitch for a summer promotion. I was working freelance for BBDO at the time, and me and my art director partner, Mark Hesse, also freelance, were briefed on the project.
One of the ideas we came up with was to put emoji on bottles and cans of Pepsi. We called them pepsiMoji.
It’s hard to believe now, but at that time, emoji were a pretty new phenomenon. They were rooted in the province of preteen girls (one of my daughters being one of them). There were concerns that they might be seen as too young, too cute, too niche for the mainstream audience that buys Pepsi. But we believed that we had something big… An idea that brought the digital world into the real world. That gave people a new way to express themselves. An idea that fit a brand that had long been on the edge of popular culture. And an idea that could only really work well with a product that was as ubiquitous as Pepsi.
We presented the idea to Pepsi and won the pitch. Everyone was excited- it’s not often that you get to redesign one of the most iconic products on the planet. Because this was a packaging initiative, Pepsi’s Global Design team were looped in as per corporate protocol. There was an immediate enthusiasm for the project, meaning that they became heavily involved.
What followed was a blur. At the end of 5 months, we had 36 designs, 17 billboards and 6 pre-roll videos approved. Over 186 million pepsiMoji bottles and cans were printed in Canada for the summer. It was a monumental effort, nurtured by a small army of agency folks, clients and suppliers. However, Global wanted to keep a tight lid on the program. We were restricted from garnering any press for our work.
Pepsi recognized that pepsiMoji was much bigger than Canada. They would learn from the Canadian experience in 2015 and launch globally in 2016. But instead of recognizing the origins of the campaign, pepsiMoji was recast as a global initiative and Canada became a “test market”.
In 2016, pepsiMoji launched in more than 100 countries worldwide with the support of the mammoth Pepsi marketing machine. Hundreds of designs and hundreds of videos have been produced. A fashion collaboration has been made. Billions of hands will hold them. For a time, pepsiMoji will be globe-spanning industry, with hundreds of millions of dollars invested and thousands of people employed.
But only a few will know that this idea came from Canada. Our country’s reputation for creativity will not be enhanced. We will not get our due. Maybe we were too polite, too Canadian, in not standing up and claiming our credit.
And for that, I'm sorry.