Pepsi Has Already Won By Avoiding the Super Bowl

When it comes to the football side of Super Bowl XLIV, everyone knows that today’s matchup pits the New Orleans Saints against the Indianapolis Colts. But there’s another side to the NFL game that is just as competitive and just as expensive, and that’s the advertising that takes place during the broadcast. That battle will see Coca-Cola (s ko) go up against flavored sugar-water competitor Pepsico (s pep). Except that Pepsi won’t be at the Super Bowl. As the company promised two months ago, it’s spending $20 million on a social media-powered community renewal campaign, and avoiding the Super Bowl altogether. And it looks as though Pepsi may already be ahead of the game, even before the kickoff.

In December, the company said that it had decided to forgo the advertising frenzy that is the Super Bowl for the first time in over two decades (although Doritos, which is owned by Pepsi, will air several ads during the game). Instead, Pepsi said it would spend $20 million funding community renewal events across the U.S. that would be selected through a “crowdsourcing” project similar to Dell’s (S dell) Ideastorm, in which users get to vote on the various proposals submitted by other users.

The project, called Refresh Everything, launched last month with a web site, a Twitter presence and a Facebook page that now has over 400,000 fans. The company gives away “grants” of between $5,000 and $250,000 every month to community development proposals, including several promoted by football players who are competing in the Super Bowl. One project will upgrade the facilities at a residence for the family members of cancer patients, while another will train teachers for low-income communities.

According to a recent survey by Nielsen, this social media-powered campaign has already paid off in terms of increased media coverage for the soft-drink maker: The survey shows that Pepsi accounted for more than 21 per cent of the media coverage and online buzz around Super Bowl advertising — about 10 times as much as Coca-Cola. And the icing on the cake: The $20 million Pepsi is spending on its crowdsourcing project is about $10 million less than it usually spends on Super Bowl ads.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user James Cridland