Pepsi Builds More Ties to ‘Empire’ With 5-Second Emoji Ads

Pepsi Builds More Ties to 'Empire'
Courtesy of PepsiCo

Pepsi recently used a three-episode plot line to attach itself to the Fox drama “Empire.” It’s latest effort to hitch itself to the show can be counted in seconds, not weeks.

Last night, the beverage maker ran the first of what it says will be dozens of five-second ads featuring various emojis placed on bottles of its flagship soda. Three ads used emojis to represent characters like Cookie Lyon, Luscious Lyon and others members of the cast of the popular series. The idea is to get consumers to want to use a bevy of Pepsi-linked emojis in their social-media interactions.

By wrapping the tiny symbols in traditional TV outreach, Pepsi has embodied a new movement on Madison Avenue, where advertisers are trying to combine the broad audience reach of TV advertising with the more precise, contextual communication provided by digital-media promotion. Where marketers once moved to shift dollars from TV to digital, they now seem to want to use the two venues in tandem, and companies on both sides of the media industry have moved to work with each other in more significant fashion.

It’s not so hard to get some consumers to adopt the emoji and pass them along. Fans who want to take part can access a virtual catalog of “PepsiMojis” by downloading it for free on the Apple App and Google Play stores. But it’s harder to insert five-second commercials into TV’s typical ad break.

More than a decade ago, Fox tested the concept – but not without some trepidation. AOL ran five-second “pod punchers” during an episode of “Prison Break.” The advertiser insisted the spot run  at the end of the commercial interruption, just before the program came back on the screen – all part of a move to thwart viewers who were fast-forwarding past ad breaks with digital-video recorders.

The trouble? The last slot in a commercial break is seen as a valuable position, as it’s the last image a viewer sees before returning to the TV program that attracted him or her in the first place. As a result, it’s seen as more memorable. By granting the slot to AOL, Fox risked incurring the ire of other ad clients, who may have been disenchanted by the fact AOL was getting a prime position. As part of the deal, Fox insisted AOL buy a 60- or 90-second ad to go with the shorter one.

In 2016, ads that are little more than video blips are no longer so foreign. So-called “pre roll” ads that run online are often shorter than 30 seconds. And so are promotional interstitial video segments that are showing up on TV networks that skew young, like Viacom’s MTV and Time Warner’s Adult Swim.

Pepsi expects to continue its short pitches as the year progresses, adding its emojis to labels on bottles of Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Pepsi MAX in the U.S., and then throughout the world over the course of the rest of the year.