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PepsiCo Hits Sundance Looking for Partners and Films to Buy

Variety logo Variety 1/23/2017 Brent Lang

PepsiCo is hitting the slopes at the Sundance Film Festival, hoping to find projects that can help it better sell soda, chips, and energy drinks, while hoping to charm filmmakers and artists it wants to bring into the fold. This year, it’s joining the likes of Netflix, the Weinstein Company, Amazon, and Sony Pictures Classics to trudge up the mountain on the prowl for product.

“We have a huge portfolio of brands and what I’m looking for are stories that relate to what each of our brands stand for,” said Kristin Patrick, the company’s SVP of global brand development. “It could be fiction or it could be non-fiction. It could be short-form digital content or it could be long form. It could be for theatrical distribution or it could be for television. It just depends on the brand.”

At Sundance, PepsiCo is debuting “Give Me Future,” a documentary about Major Lazer, a dance-hall band that includes Diplo, Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire, and its recent concert in Cuba. PepsiCo co-produced the film. The rights are being sold at the festival.

In recent years, digital players have had an increasingly large role at Sundance and other film confabs and gatherings, but it’s rare to see a food and beverage company looking to make acquisitions. However, as consumers watch more and more television on DVRs or on their computers, television advertising has become less effective. That’s left companies like PepsiCo looking for novel ways to reach customers. Moreover, the cost of making a film or buying a completed one is a relative dip in the bucket compared to the $2 million to $6 million it routinely sets companies back to film a television spot.

“What’s relevant now is something that emotionally connects to consumers,” said Patrick.

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PepsiCo, with a slate of products that include Pepsi, Gatorade, Lays, Quaker Oats, and  Tropicana has long recognized the power of popular culture. The company has been particularly aggressive in forging alliances with the entertainment industry, enlisting the likes of Michael Jackson, Shakira, Madonna, and Britney Spears to hawk its products over the decades. That’s partly what drew the company to “Give Me Future,” because it represented a chance to reinforce its connection to musical artists.

To help strengthen those ties, the company has launched a production arm christened the Creators League, and is partnering with artists on television shows, films, and digital programming. It’s already signed a deal to produce shows with talent manager Scooter Braun and is working on a feature film with producer Robbie Brenner and musician T.I. Last year, the Creators League opened up a decked-out production facility in the Manhattan neighborhood of Tribeca.

“To me I’ve got to be able to answer one question with every deal I do, whether I’m buying a film or producing films — ‘Is this content going to be better and more successful because of our partnership?'” said Brad Jakeman, PepsiCo’s global beverage group president. “If the answer to that is yes, the chances are it’s an authentic and natural relationship.”

Jakeman says he sees modern advertising drawing on historical precedents as it looks for ways to resonate with digitally savvy consumers. He likens what Pepsi’s doing to soap operas, which used melodramas to sell detergent, but didn’t belabor the point by constantly cutting to characters slaving over the washing machine.

“We’re taking a really broad view of how brands are built now,” said Jakeman. “We’re creating content consumers want to seek out rather than screen out.”

The idea is that by backing these films, shows, and other types of content, the residual glow will transfer to PepsiCo, making their foods and beverages seem younger, hipper, and more fun.

Nor do the films or shows in question have to include a hard sell for soft drinks. “Give Me Future,” for example, shows billboards for Pepsi in the background of concert scenes, but it doesn’t push the connection. PepsiCo says that there’s no mandate that the films they make or acquire need to have its products or signage featured in them.

“We’re not going to make people sip Pepsi,” said Patrick. “It has to be naturally ingrained into the film.”

Pictured: PepsiCo’s Brad Jakeman and Kristin Patrick with The Weinstein Company’s Harvey Weinstein at Sundance. 

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