Why Pepsi Held An Internal Marketing Shark Tank Contest For $1 Million In Funding

PepsiCo North America CMO Seth Kaufman on how Fast Pitch will help attract talent and keep the global brand as agile as possible.

Why Pepsi Held An Internal Marketing Shark Tank Contest For $1 Million In Funding
[Photos: courtesy of PepsiCo]

Back in August, PepsiCo North America held an internal challenge called Fast Pitch, asking its marketers to pitch ideas for areas critical to the business, with the chance to win $1 million in marketing activation funding.


Employees from PepsiCo’s North America Beverages marketing teams, from entry level to senior executives, across brand, customer, field, sports, and music marketing departments, and representing Mountain Dew, Lipton, SoBe, Pepsi, Stubborn Soda, and more gathered in Manhattan at the PepsiCo Design & Innovation Center to pitch their ideas Shark Tank-style to a team of judges in three minutes, with five minutes for questions.

Fast Pitch was created by the company’s internal innovation group PepsiCo Creator, launched last year. PepsiCo North America CMO Seth Kaufman says the goal is to inspire a culture of rapid experimentation, improving the company’s overall agility in idea development, and also fostering a culture that will attract the best talent possible.

“Creator was established as a catalyst group inside the organization to look at the edges of culture, they’re all about deploying disruptive technologies into the marketplace, learning from it, iterating, then doing it again in bigger scale,” says Kaufman. “The thinking behind Fast Pitch within Creator was to have additional proof points. In general, just doing a program like this allows us to work with the right external partners, to take things not yet at scale and test them out in order to learn from them, and ultimately scale later on. But what it also does is give everyone from our junior talent to senior level to take a passion project, put it on a platform and go after it.”

A lot of big companies preach the notion that a great idea can come from anyone, but more rare is the framework to facilitate that kind of internal communication and collaboration. Kaufman sees Fast Pitch as a major initiative that will have positive ripple effect throughout the marketing department.

“It all stems from the idea of how do you ensure the passion and energy of the department has a way to get out into the world? If you foster a culture of creative innovation within the department and with external creators, allowing folks to take their passions and ideas, and deploy them in the marketplace, it will without question improve your agility,” says Kaufman. “You’ll be able to move faster against any kind of innovation, whether that’s in product, packaging, or consumer engagement. Even just talking about experimentation helps people feel more comfortable putting themselves out there, even if it’s an idea they think will be rejected. It helps recruit the right talent, it helps retain the right talent, it helps motivate the talent we have, and it inspires the whole department.”

And while a lot of emphasis is put on the power of experimentation in affecting the overall culture of the brand’s marketing department, Kaufman also sees a direct line of impact to the bottom line.


“While you’re experimenting on the fringes, the focus isn’t on how it can impact business today, but I firmly believe that all of this will not just result in great things we’re doing to have the right culture, but will also have measurable business results,” he says. “When you’re talking about things like a new mixology platform that can go across our whole business, or a future-proofed hydration platform that may be connected, or more thought-provoking activations on social media–which are the areas that wound up being the winning teams–these are all scaleable ideas that will drive long-term business impact and growth. The results are going to be real. These are ideas that will pay dividends back to the actual business performance, some in the short term, some in the long term, but in one way or another they will deliver actual business results.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.