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Pepsi Launches the Creators League as In-House Studio to Be a Little More like Red Bull

Can PepsiCo become the next Red Bull?

Frank Cooper III, who serves as the soda giant’s chief marketing officer of global consumer engagement, has long championed the power of entertainment as a way to build a loyal fanbase around the company’s brands, including Mountain Dew. Yet while he’s had some successes with one-off projects like Pepsi Max’s “Uncle Drew” saga with NBA star Kyrie Irving and a $50 million deal with Beyonce, Cooper’s looking to produce music, TV shows and Web series through a newly formed internal studio called the Creators League.

One of its first projects is the World Cup-themed “Beats of the Beautiful Game,” a series of musicvideos Pepsi is calling “filmtracks,” directed by Janelle Monae, the Young Astronauts, Spike Lee, Timbaland, Santigold, Kelly Rowland and Idris Elba (see above).

The Challenge: “Everyone in this broader branded entertainment media ecosystem has been trained to think that the brand writes the check and the creative team does what it wants in service of the brand,” Cooper told Variety while discussing his plans for the Creators League. “The trick is to figure out what the brand and creative community can do jointly that benefits both. That’s where I want to play.”

SEE ALSO: Janelle Monae, Kelly Rowland, Idris Elba Featured on Pepsi’s Visual Soccer Album

The Overall Goal: “It’s really about pushing the boundaries for content creation and monetization and distribution,” Cooper says. “We’re thinking about new ways to create revenue streams in owning intellectual property.” It’s what Red Bull has done so well with its own brand, producing everything from short films for the web to full-length documentaries that hype an adventurous lifestyle over the sale of its energy drinks. In each case, it’s building a massive slate of content it can distribute through its own digital pipelines and promote through its Red Bulletin magazine and other promotional platforms. “Red Bull has been really smart at being the pioneers,” Cooper says. “Why rent when you can own?”

The Opportunities: “There are constrains in any industry that don’t allow creative people to do what they’re passionate about,” Cooper says. “I’m not trying to compete with a network or studio, but there are gaps within the industry where we can play in,” with Cooper spending less time on films because of “timelines and cost.”

Every Platform Counts: While Cooper is considering a range of platforms to distribute the Creators League’s content, “we think that for short form, mobile will play an increasingly important role for us,” he says. “As we start to get better data on content that we distribute in the digital space, we can get much more intelligence on how to distribute that content online and to broadcast TV.” In addition to hiring a team of developers, freelancers, artists and editors, Cooper is in the process of hiring a data science team. “That’s the secret sauce of this whole thing,” Cooper says.

Re-Think “Branded Entertainment: “I try to think about what we do from the audience’s perspective,” Cooper says. “For the most part they don’t’ really care that it’s delivered by a brand. It must be entertainment first.” While the obvious role is for a brand to sponsor or integrate its products into content, just producing content “is the area that most brands get frightened by,” Cooper says. “They’re say, ‘I don’t see our logos, or our product being consumed.’ The ones that are more courageous are saying this digitally savvy audience is really smart. They get it, they’ll figure it out, and it’s sometimes better for them to figure it out on their own. That’s the ultimate branding — when you’re viewed not so much as a sponsor of entertainment but an active player.”

Lead by Example: “It’s always difficult for a large corporation to march into uncharted territory,” Cooper says. “When you start to see really small companies put out content and generate large audiences with relativity small amounts of money, it changes the way you think. It becomes an easier sell in terms of experimentation. The next step is to move from an experimental phase to long-term commitment. We’ve had successes, but in order to win we need to be constantly in the game.”

Big Data, Big Deal: In addition to hiring a team of developers, freelancers, artists and editors, Cooper is in the process of hiring a data science team. “That’s the secret sauce of this whole thing,” Cooper says.

Changing the Game: New hires like Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo’s global beverages group, is a former exec at Activision Blizzard, the world’s largest videogame publisher. That’s “helped a lot” in changing how PepsiCo views entertainment, Cooper says. “The shift that’s happening in the gaming world is creating a lot of disruption. The more people who come in and understand how to work with the creative community directly and distribute content in different ways, it makes my job easier in order to push these boundaries.”

New York State of Mind:  Cooper was caught off-guard by the reaction he got when he set up the Creators League in New York rather than Hollywood. “Everyone I talked to said I was crazy,” he says. “But our headquarters are based here, and there’s a massive amount of talent that’s under-leveraged.”

Why Idris Elba? “We’ve tried to find a range of directors — some that were established directors, some who were music video directors and could tell great stories, others who were young and coming out of the digital space,” Coopers says. “Idris is a DJ and had done some directing. He’s really passionate about soccer, which helps. He’s also adventurous. If you come at him with a new idea and he feels like he’s breaking new ground, he’ll listen.” Elba’s short, featuring R3HAB’s song “Unstoppable,” takes place in the 1970s, and features the soccer skills of Zach Hamilton. It’s the first film from Elba’s new production shingle Green Door Pictures. “He shot and edited it within a week,” Cooper says. (Watch his short below followed by the first from Monae)

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