Pepsi recruited the help of virtual idol band K/DA to drive awareness of Pepsi Black, the company's healthier, sugar-free option, and gain relevance among China's gaming community of more than 400 million people.
Pepsi needed to find an innovative way to connect with the 400 million gamers that make up China's impressive game world and promote Pepsi Black — its healthier, sugar-free beverage.
China's esports gaming community is the largest in the world, with over 400 million fans. During COVID-19, esports games' popularity only increased, with the Streamlab 2020 report showing an 83 percent year-over-year increase in the number of hours being played and a 20 percent annual increase in its sales. However, Pepsi had yet to successfully break into this community.
In addition, while gamers were known for living somewhat unhealthier lifestyles, COVID-19 shifted their interests towards healthier options, helping to fuel a 38 percent year-over-year increase in demand for sugar-free beverages.
In China, the pace of young consumers' lives only quickened. With many employees working nine-hour workdays, six days a week, many young people are living under immense pressure, with little time for escape.
Tapping into these insights, Pepsi decided to step in and bring its healthier, sugar-free Pepsi Black to the fans of League of Legends, the most popular esports game in the world. To do this, Pepsi partnered with K/DA, a popular virtual idol band created inside League of Legends.
On October 31, League of Legends held its annual world championships, with K/DA performing as part of the championship opening show, announcing their comeback after a two-year hiatus, which was watched by more than 150 million esports fans. Pepsi chose the very next day after their comeback performance, November 1, to announce its partnership with K/DA, ensuring viral attention. Furthermore, November 1 is the beginning of China's biggest two-week long ecommerce extravaganza, Singles' Day, providing the perfect timing for Pepsi to drive sales.
Pepsi is known for partnering with top music stars to bolster its image and appeal to young, trendy consumers. However, in 2020, COVID-19 had placed severe limitations on large physical concerts, leading to gaming and virtual idols replacing live music as the top past time for China's youth. In fact, virtual idols in China are treated just like real celebrities, with fanbases in excess of 10 million followers.
Overall Campaign Execution:
To win, Pepsi knew that it needed to create an all-encompassing online-to-offline campaign.
Offline, Pepsi co-created limited-edition K/DA cans of Pepsi Black and limited-edition K/DA merchandise that it sold at a specially branded K/DA themed pop-up store in Shanghai. To further amplify the partnership, Pepsi also placed high-impact OOH installations across China's top esports game cities.
Online, Pepsi launched an official television commercial, as well as an exclusive K/DA giftbox, which was sold exclusively online. To drive viral buzz about the partnership with one of China's hottest virtual bands, the company served gaming KOL content in partnership with China's top online content platforms, including Douyin, Youku, WeChat, Red, Bilibili and Weibo.
Pepsi needed to find an innovative way to connect with the 400 million gamers that make up China's impressive gaming community and promote Pepsi Black — its healthier, sugar-free beverage — to this community for the first time.
Pepsi delivered an epic integrated collaboration that would typically be reserved for A-level musicians and celebrities — all for a completely virtual idol band. The results blew away expectations, generating over 532 million impressions across its channels, with a total 8.8 million brand interactions.
Most impressively, Pepsi Black not only increased the brand's followers on Tmall, China's leading ecommerce platform, by 345 percent, but it also increased sales by 597 percent. In addition, gross merchandise volume increased on Singles' Day, representing a staggering 56 percent of Pepsi's total sales.