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« Where Are the Nonprofit Social Media Strategists? | Main | Can You Help Jeff Jackson Find His Godson in Chile? Update: He's Found! »


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It's one think to apologize for missteps in strategy and implementation, but it's another to apologize for getting caught playing favorites for a celebrity. This is where we find out if Pepsi is interested in empowering the project participants and communities or if it's just looking for that Super Bowl moment.


The news article coverage seems to show Pepsi apologizing publicly with a good attempt to make amends. They seem to be on the right track. It would also be nice to see the efforts they go through to get the word out about their own apology.

The Stride gum - rename the flavor contest from a year ago is an example of a company saying sorry late and not in very many places. Message boards all over the web were filled with conversations, complaints and rants that the company never even attempted to participate in.


At a recent event on Open Source Democracy* we actually talked about the issue of prized competitions and motivations. The sense I pulled from the conversation is that deep innovation is not likely to come through prized competitions. They are good for solving specific problems (like solving a complicated math problem) and can be good for surfacing activity that is already happening. Wikipedia came up as one example of something that would likely never have shown up through a competition.

Certainly part of that comes into the scope and design of the competition and the purposes of the competition host. Most funders are constrained in their theory of change and their culture and mindset and likely to encourage incremental change vs. systemic innovation... and that is something that will be very hard to overcome by design as the design criteria themselves will likely be held back by those same things.

* the event was part of a seminar series of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity & Innovation.


The bigger problem which I have not seen adressed anywhere is that people can register to vote on the refresh project without confirming their email address!!! This is a simple way to avoid voting fraud and it wasn't done. I have witnessed someone attempting to create an account only to fine their email address was already taken!

Other challenges:

having contestants competing in monetary brackets instead of project categories. How can an art project compete against a charity that is feeding the poor or educating the underprivaleged?

Daily voting favors those with large pre-exisiting networks (national orgs/those with large business connections/school groups). I think a limited number of votes over the voting period (say 10 unique) would have inspired people to vet who they were voting for better, and made it easier for smaller groups to compete. This also helps mitigate cause fatigue. Sure it's great for pepsi to get their product mentions in every day, but for a small non profit group that relies heavily upon the support of it's folowers for regular fundraising efforts- the last thing you want to be hearing is "oh you guys again"

So thanks for the attempt Pepsi- and I'm happy for those groups who were able to overcome the odds to rank in the top 10/3

Anil Rathi


Having run dozens of competitions for others, I too am skeptical of "Vote for Me" contests for identifying the most innovative. I agree that the "hybrid option for crowdsourcing" IS expertise and there are ways to crowdsource expertise the same way that Pepsi is crowdsourcing the popular vote.

A great example is HopeLab's $300K Ruckus Nation competition for new products that would increase physical activity to prevent childhood obesity. They received over 400 entries, conducted a rigorous four-phase online judging process with well-defined criteria and entries were judged by over 300 experts in health, VCs, gaming, academia and even kids!

Jessica Kirkwood

I wonder if the contest would somehow be different if the voters were voting on projects already executed - i.e. voting on perceived impact already achieved vs. potential.

Adnan Mahmud

It seems Pepsi has run into more issues now. About 45 mins ago they opened up their March submission. I tried to submit an idea, but, my experience was terrible. Here is my experience:

- Firstly, Pepsi took down their site for 4 hours for maintenance right before submission was to open. I tried accessing the site starting at 12:01 and the submission area kept showing offline message. Generally, it is a bad idea to do maintenance right before a big traffic surge. Something can always go wrong.
- Secondly, the site was really slow. It was painfully obvious that Pepsi had not taken appropriate steps to handle the traffic surge.
- For the first 20 minutes, I kept being logged into the accounts of Andres and Frances - people I did not know. I did the right thing and kept signing out from their accounts. If nothing else, you would think that Pepsi would uphold people's privacy. This kind of failure SHOULD NEVER happen.
- Finally I got through and they already had 1000 submissions in 20 minutes.

So, after waiting for a long wait and being show account information for other people, I was not able to submit my idea!

Bonin Bough


We're so sorry that you ran into trouble this morning, and we're investigating the cause. At this time, we believe that the issue was limited to small number of people, and we'll be in touch with affected users soon. We are utilizing the industry standard for websites that receive spikes of traffic within concentrated periods and will continue to look for ways to improve the technology as we move forward. We encourage you to submit your idea for an April Pepsi Refresh Grant. If you have any other questions, please call 1-800-768-2784.

Bonin Bough
Global Director of Digital and Social Media, PepsiCo

Adnan Mahmud

Hi Bonin,

The first thing I did last night after my idea did not get through was call the number but I was directed to an automated answer saying that customer service was closed. So, if you reach your 1000 submissions within 20 minutes of opening up for submissions, shouldn't the customer service be available during that peak time?

I thought the submission that opened up last night was for April grants. Is that not correct? From the site it seems that the submissions happen 1 month before the actual voting month. So, we thought we were submitting last night for voting in April. Are you saying that you will still allow us to submit for April? Or are you saying that we should wait for another month and try to get our idea in for May voting? I am confused about the timing between submitting our idea and voting.


A local school where I live recently participated in a similar contest sponsored by Aviva (insurance company) - same idea: have a good idea that would help the community, you could get up to $250,000 to support that idea. One thing I noticed while assisting them in getting the word out was that the Aviva Twitter account created for the contest was showcasing certain projects repeatedly, without mentioning others. It was not necessarily that their ideas were better either, many had ideas that were similar and entered after ideas that were similar in nature. Not surprisingly, when the contest was over, the groups supported at the beginning were the ones that won in the end.

I think these types of contests are social media marketing under the veil of social responsibility - and in the end watching them happen is very sad. Much like watching a crowd of starving people fighting over a few loaves of bread. Especially where the idea is attributed to a person or group.

These contests should definitely start with a level playing field, but I don't think the winning ideas should ever be naturally understood to be the best ideas.

Bonin Bough

Our customer service opens each day at 8am. If you haven’t gotten in touch with them yet, please do. The submissions that open on April 1 will be voted on in May. We hope you’ll submit then.

Ashley E. Kingsley

We have tried to reach Mr. Bough regarding the Pepsi Refresh project. We were up for the $250K grant in February and competed against many wonderful ideas and charities. Toward the end of the month we came across @Kanter blog post about how Pepsi made changes to one of the charities web pages, which was against their own rules. The charity in which they made changes to (or entry) was Mariska Hargitay's page. She is a Hollywood Celebrity - go figure.

Disappointed by the special treatment we tried to rally and get more votes. After all, we are a not funded at the moment and don't have Hollywood status and bank accounts to get us up and running.

We found out today that we are being rolled over into March's competition as we placed 35th in the overall voting, apparently. So, we thought "Wow, we can get Pepsi to make changes to our page, and correct the error they made!" We called Mr. Bough and asked if he would correct the error. He said "It is not possible." After a few more minutes, Dafna, the President of our organization said "Well, would it help if I was on Law and Order, SVU?" He replied, "Yes."

So, there you have it. Is Pepsi listening? I don't think so. Or maybe selectively. Are they playing fair? No. Are they doing the right thing? Not yet. They need to level the playing field and play by the rules.

Our organization is (vote for us) and we are determined to bootstrap our efforts and move American forward with the

We won't be relying on Pepsi. But we sure do hope they start displaying the beliefs they are trying so hard to promote.

Adnan Mahmud

Thanks for the response, Bonin. If I understand this correctly, it seems I might run into the same issue on the 1st of every month trying to submit this idea. Until you guys are able to handle the traffic surge, their will be significant lag when the submissions open up every month. And, even if you were able to handle the traffic, it is really a matter of us getting lucky enough to get our idea picked by your website.

So, if I understand correctly, I could try submitting my idea every month but never get selected for voting this whole year because I was not lucky enough to be picked by your website within 20 minutes of the submission period opening up?

Maybe I am not understanding your model correctly and if so, I hope you will help clarify it.

Bonin Bough

Not sure who you talked to but we’d like to help. What’s the best way we can get in touch with you? If you don’t want to post your info publicly, please DM us on Twitter.


Interesting article. Pepsi did drop the ball on this one, and should have done better. It's a shame.

On the flipside, Beth, I was wondering if you could promote this contest that is going on, or recommend to those that are in need. Esssentially, it is a chance for a nonprofit organisations who do not have a website, or needs help with their existing website, or needs more charity specific website functionality.
All they have to do is register, and set up a profile and have others vote for them. Those with the highest vote at the end of the month wins a 6 month subscription to valued at $5000!

Adnan Mahmud

Hi Bonin,

We are still waiting to hear from Pepsi. On one of your earlier comments, you said Pepsi will get in touch with the people affected during the upload process on March 1st. We are still waiting for a reply to our email that we sent Pepsi Refresh right after our submission failed.

We hope to hear from Pepsi Refresh soon on what you will do regarding our submission for April.

Bonin Bough

Just checked with our customer service department, and they've been in touch with everyone who reached out to them about having problems on March 1. We couldn't look into your case specifically without more information; if you give us the e-mail address associated with your submission, we'll make sure that they call or e-mail to confirm.

Adnan Mahmud

Hi Bonin,

Thanks for getting back to us. The submission came from adminATjolkonaDOTorg username. Let me know if you need any other information.


Adnan Mahmud

Hi Bonin,

Just wanted to check in again to see if Pepsi had a chance to review our email and get back to us.

I look forward to hearing from you soon!


Adnan Mahmud

It's that time of the month again - time to prepare a proposal for Pepsi Refresh. I wrote a post on our blog about our experience in submitting a proposal for the month of May. Would love to hear all of your (including Bonin) comments on the post.

Here is a link to the blog post:

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