If someone were to ask you to draw the Pepsi logo from memory, what would you draw? A circle, perhaps, with the red, white and blue stripes that are emblematic of the brand. The word “Pepsi,” probably, in that globe.
When PepsiCo walks people through this exercise, as it sometimes does, that’s what most do: They put the word “Pepsi” in the circle. But that’s not how the current logo actually looks. The brand name is off to the side, a bit meek next to the iconic globe. So Pepsi is making a change.
“We couldn’t ignore that kind of insight,” Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo’s chief design officer, told CNN. “Instead of rejecting it, we decided to embrace it.”
Pepsi on Tuesday unveiled a new logo and branding that will roll out in North America this fall and globally next year. It looks a lot like the 1990s version which seems to have stuck in people’s brain, but with new elements to make it more modern, including a different font and font color and a new border. The changes are designed not only to better align with people’s recollection, but to draw attention to Pepsi’s zero sugar line — a key part of the company’s growth plan.
‘Bold and confident’
Pepsi has been around for 125 years, and updates its branding every so often. The current visual identity was introduced in 2008. But in the years since it first appeared, it’s gone a bit stale.
The “Pepsi” in the logo “is decoupled from the globe,” noted Todd Kaplan, Pepsi’s chief marketing officer. “It’s this lowercase, italicized font, the blue is a little bit muted … it doesn’t exude that confidence and energy that the brand really represents.”
Pepsi, Kaplan said, is “a bold and confident brand,” one that stands for “unapologetic enjoyment.” The current logo, with its lower-case “pepsi” standing shyly away from that laid-back globe? Not very bold, not very confident.
The new logo, with its punchy, upper-case “PEPSI” smack-dab in the middle of the circle, emblazoned across the white stripe undulating between the red and blue waves, is more like it.
It’s not unusual for companies to tweak their look to stay relevant, noted Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. But they have to be careful not to rock the boat too much: Major changes risk confusing or upsetting customers. He pointed to the Tropicana logo debacle as an example. In 2009, Tropicana changed its carton design so drastically that consumers were outraged. Tropicana, then owned by PepsiCo, changed its logo back within a few months.
For “brands that have a long history, you always can look backwards,” Calkins said. Tapping nostalgic images can be “very powerful.” But companies have to be careful to make sure the legacy branding feels fresh, he said.
Pepsi says that the changes its making are distinctive enough to do the trick, and highlight modern elements like Pepsi’s zero-sugar line.
Zero’s the hero
Soft drink companies have been focusing on zero-sugar products and branding in recent years as consumer interest in full-sugar soda flags, and PepsiCo is no exception.
Zero “is going to be the center of the strategy for the Pepsi brand,” in the US, PepsiCo (PEP) CEO Ramon Laguarta said during a February analyst call. Earlier this year, Pepsi announced changes to its zero-sugar recipe, and advertised the product with a Super Bowl commercial.
“We think that the non-sugar segment of colas will continue to grow very fast in this country. We’re seeing consumers pivoting,” Laguarta said, noting that zero had already been a “strategic” product in Europe and elsewhere.
To that end, “zero sugar is going to be the protagonist of our communication strategy,” Porcini told CNN.
To highlight the zero line, the new logo uses black font and a black border, a nod to Pepsi Zero’s black can and label.
The border also helps make the logo the defined center of the company’s new pulse campaign, which features lines radiating out of the pulsing logo in time with upbeat music in video ads and elsewhere.
The team knows that even small changes can make waves with consumers and approached the update with caution.
“This has been a iterative process over the last handful of years,” said Kaplan. “We think it’s a really great way to maintain [Pepsi’s] familiarity … but also project out to the future.”