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Pepsi Refresh: Just Another Contest?

I have to admit that I’m not terribly fond of contests for nonprofits.

I worry about the time spent competing in them that might be better used on something else. I worry about the groups that don’t win anything. I’m very concerned that we have too many contests. Will a staff position become necessary at nonprofits just to keep up?

I don’t especially like the idea of so many companies using contests to satisfy their corporate social responsibilities (CSR). I wonder if the payoff is one-sided with most of the benefit and glory going to the company, while nonprofits chase the money like Greyhounds are motivated to chase the fake rabbit. I worry that contests are another manifestation of our lottery/casino/gambling culture. I worry that cause-marketing will devolve into nothing but contests.

I know, I worry too much.

All that said, there is something different about the Pepsi Refresh Project. It is more appealing to me than any of the contests to date for several reasons:

  • I love its website. Yep, I’m a sucker for good design, bright colors, clever icons, and just all around cuteness. Pepsi Refresh is graphically sensational.
  • It is not on a closed site such as Facebook. This allows Pepsi to create its own space, look, and functionality. It also opens the contest up to anyone, not just members of a closed site. There is plenty of opportunity to promote the campaign on Facebook and other sites, but it isn’t restricted to that.
  • The campaign features ideas, not just organizations. And there are plenty of ideas surfacing…clever ideas….helpful ideas…creative ideas. These are ideas that can take off whether or not they win any Pepsi money. A good example of crowdsourcing, just reading them is engaging and motivating.
  • Anybody can submit an idea. A business, a nonprofit, a person, a group. And the ideas that are being proposed are not grandiose. They are things that anyone might try to do. In fact Pepsi insists that your idea be “feasible” and that it can be accomplished in 12 months.
  • I understand it. In keeping with the simple (Pepsi calls them “shovel ready”) ideas, the contest is simply constructed. I have gotten confused with some of the contests, not really understanding how they work. This one is simple and the instructions are easy to understand. Plus there is plenty of help. There is a toolkit, a clear explanation of the submission procedure, and, if your idea gets picked, good ideas to help you promote it and get votes.
  • It pays attention to outcomes. The application process asks submitters to specify goals for their project and just how they will spend the money. The theme throughout is practicality and feasibility. If you vote for an idea, you know exactly what you’re voting for.
  • The grants come in several sizes, ranging from the $5K level, best for individuals who might want to just start something, all the way up to $250K, suitable for a well-coordinated organization. Submitters have to decide which level to go for.
  • There is more than one opportunity. The contest repeats each month. So if you’re not ready this month, you might be able to compete later. This provides lots of opportunities for many individuals and groups to participate.
  • I had fun voting. Because the site looks great and is understandable, it is actually fun to vote. Yes, you do have to register and give up some information, but I was more willing than usual to do so.

It’s clear that Pepsi has spared no expense to make this contest beautiful and appealing. Every entry chosen has its own page with goals, budget, photos, and a video if applicable. The formatting is consistent, and the site is easy to navigate. The presentation really sets a new bar for these types of contests.

My skepticism about contests is fraying at the edges with the Pepsi campaign. But am I just dazzled by the look? What do you think? What are the strong points about Pepsi Refresh? Or what are the weak spots that I’ve overlooked? What do you think about this type of cause marketing?

Here is some other commentary, pro and con, about the Pepsi Refresh social marketing campaign.

Photo courtesy of Pepsi Refresh

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Pepsi Refresh: Just Another Contest? originally appeared on About.com Nonprofit Charitable Orgs on Monday, February 15th, 2010 at 06:00:04.

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