How Pepsi Partners With Pioneering Artists To Enhance The Brand

In-house Creator division teams up with emerging artists and cutting edge technology to promote its brands through unique experiences.

An animated wonderland—pulsating all-seeing eyes, tiger mandalas, rotating lotus flowers—fly across a soaring 40-foot dome to music, raining lights and color on an audience sprawled out on couches. The 18 minutes of extrasensory chill-out culminates in swirling blue and red color whisps that coalesce into the Pepsi logo. The lights come up, and the audience blinks back into reality.

This interactive art experience—developed by the Los Angeles digital animated art site Likuid Art for PepsiCo—launched at the Voodoo Music and Arts Experience in New Orleans over Halloween weekend. Near the entrance, videos of how the installation evolved entertained an hourlong line snaking out the front door. At the exit, Pepsi representatives helped emerging viewers create spiral art on postcards which they could then mail to friends. A couple of weeks later, Likuid Art showcased the dome in a downtown L.A. production studio for local press.

The Pepsi Art Dome is the latest project from Creator, an 18-month-old in-house division of PepsiCo North America Beverages tasked with finding new ways to engage consumers through immersive experiences. It’s the first of three installations planned with partner Live Nation Entertainment. (Next up is the Farmborough Festival in New York in June.) For young consumers driven more by images and experiences than words, events like this offer more genuine product integration. Emerging artists get a platform for their ideas and businesses, while Pepsi exposes its corporation to new talent and strategic thinking. (Creator is unaffiliated with the Pepsi Creators League, a content project from PepsiCo Global that’s currently on hold.)

Seth Kaufman

“Creator is about transformation in marketing, how we embrace risk, deploy disruptive technology, and connect with consumers in new and different ways,” says Seth Kaufman, CMO for PepsiCo North America Beverages. “Consumers are on multiple devices. Creator helps us stay on the leading edge of culture and break through the clutter. In today’s crowded communication landscape, connecting with consumers is hard, so we look for things like that to tap into their passions.”

Creator staff scout emerging trends in sports, technology, entertainment, and lifestyle, then harness them through creative collaborations between PepsiCo brands, artists, and corporate partners.

Creative Collaborations

At the 2014 SXSW, Creator produced the in partnership with Lightwave wearable tech, Fast Company, and DJ A-Trak that tied revelers’ biometric data to lighting, music and beverage rewards.

Earlier this year, the PepsiCo-owned SoBe tea and sports beverage brand re-imagined the artist-in-residency concept by subsidizing five artists embodying the brand’s attitude of experimentation. Their artwork appeared on Pepsi-branded social media with the hashtag #RideTheWild and at a Miami showcase. “The idea was that content is everything around us,” says Kaufman.

In September, Pepsi debuted its new F!ZZ line of novelty soft drinks at the World Maker Faire by partnering with beverage creation and consulting company Bevlab to develop an experimental beverage laboratory.

Enter The Dome

Then came the Pepsi Art Dome. Seven months ago, Creator set up artist pitch meetings in various cities to find something to do for the Voodoo Fest. Likuid Art creative director Chris Saunders had been referred as a solo artist/designer, but told the Creator scouts about a Likuid Art project animating 2D art he was developing with filmmaker/producer David Booth Gardner. The animated sequences would stream online with a subscription.

“They didn’t know what they were looking for, they just knew that they wanted something at the intersection of art, technology, and music, and something cutting-edge that people hadn’t seen before,” says Gardner, Likuid Art’s CEO. “In order to find that, they had to find people who were underground, who hadn’t yet been discovered.”

Chris Saunders’ dome animation

Thus began a series of conference calls with Pepsi and Live Nation to discuss how to present Likuid Art for a festival. Gardner and Saunders got the idea of projecting Likuid Art’s animated works to music in a dome from artist Android Jones, who’d created a similar show, Samskara 360, at Burning Man and Lighting in a Bottle.

“That way, people could come into the dome as a community, get exposure to all these artists, and experience something cutting-edge, with Pepsi’s branding behind it, but not overtly commercial,” says Gardner.

The green light came at the end of August, giving Gardner and Saunders a mere two months to turn a flat-screen presentation into an immersive digital arts show for a 40-foot dome, featuring artists from around the world.

Likuid Art added its own capital to the undisclosed, but restricted budget they received from Pepsi to better launch Likuid Art as a brand (its site was going live two weeks after the Voodoo Fest, on November 17) and position the installation for scaling up and touring other festivals.

Dome exterior at the Voodoo Fest

“They trusted us a huge amount to use our skills and knowledge to create a show based on art and what we thought would be a cool experience,” says Saunders. “We only had to do a little subtle branding towards the end. There’s no Pepsi branding within the actual art pieces.”

“At the same time,” adds Gardner, “it couldn’t feel like a commercial. It had to stand up next to all the other art pieces, so everyone knew that they came to see a show, not a commercial.”

A global enterprise

The process involved coordinating some 75 artists, animators, musicians, technologists, and fabricators around the world. Gardner and Saunders chose the artists, assigned their works to complementary animators, roped in sound designer Christophe Eagleton and his team at Dynamite Laser Beam to create an original score, and assembled it all into one fluid 18-minute sequence.

Then came the technical bits. To create images large enough for the dome, they composited images from four cameras, a rendering process that took until the Monday of the week of the festival, then ran it through a 12-hour encoding process to fit without distortion within the dome’s curved dimensions.

David Booth Gardner and Chris Saunders during Voodoo Fest set-up weekPhoto: courtesy of David Booth Gardner

While all this was going on, Likuid Art contracted the Russian-owned, Thailand-based dome fabricator Full Dome and Vortex Immersion Media in Los Angeles to design, build, and ship the dome, along with 30-foot tresses, 12 projectors, 5.1 Surround Sound system, media servers, and the proprietary projection mapping software. The dome took three days to put up, as the last of the rendering and encoding was happening.

“Let’s just say it was a pretty hairy last week of production,” says Gardner.

Hints of the collaboration’s success were revealed over the three-day event. “Around the festival, people would see folks in the Pepsi shirts and say, ‘Oh, you guys are doing that dome!’” Gardner adds. “So it quickly became affiliated with Pepsi, but the show and content inside was about the art.”

Composer Christophe Eagleton, artist Karen Bystedt, and Likuid Art’s David Booth Gardner and Chris Saunders in the Pepsi Art Dome in Los Angeles.Photo: Susan Karlin

Meanwhile, these creative collaborations have infused new ways of thinking at Pepsi. Creator operates more like a start-up than conglomerate—experimenting with an idea, learning from it, and updating it.

“For a Fortune 50 packaged goods company, that’s a massive shift and a great way to think about innovation—seeing something, learning from it, putting something out into the market, learning from that experience, and making it better the next time,” says Kaufman. “We’ll take what we did at Voodoo, which was incredibly successful, build on it, and the next thing we put into the marketplace will be more effective.”

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.

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