MAY 7, 2021 | 11:30am EST / 4:30pm GMT

How PepsiCo’s Creators League transforms trends into brand activations


Lauren Powell,

Analytics & Social Listening Lead,
Creators League Studio at PepsiCo

Paul Quigley,

CEO and Co-Founder,


Every successful creative campaign is powered by insight. Lauren Powell, Analytics & Social Listening Lead with PepsiCo’s Creators League Studio, joins NewsWhip CEO Paul Quigley for a discussion on using content analytics and social listening to support the creative process.

In this webinar:

  • Learning about PepsiCo’s Creators League Studio | 1:28-2:39
  • PepsiCo’s global insights framework | 3:46-4:40
  • How to find content and cultural trends | 4:41-5:03
  • How the in-house creative team collaborates | 5:04-5:26
  • PepsiCo’s nine human drivers for consumers | 5:28-7:33
  • Turning insights into brand content | 8:18-9:58
  • Making connections with Mountain Dew | 9:58-12:02
  • Testing new products through memes | 12:13-13:11
  • Monitoring for corporate social responsibility | 13:13-14:58
  • Super Bowl content planning | 15:01-17:25
  • Exploring different platforms: TikTok, Clubhouse, and Reddit | 17:28-20:06
  • Engagement metrics that matter | 20:47-22:28
  • Choosing how to distribute social media campaigns | 22:59-23:51
  • Predictions for the future of content | 24:29-25:59


Currently Lauren Powell is the Analytics and Social Listening Lead in the Creators League Studio, which develops and implements the content strategy for PepsiCo brands. Lauren has several years of experience working in digital analytics, and prior to joining PepsiCo, she worked with Anheuser-Busch and GroupM.

Paul Quigley:  [Starts at 1:27] So Lauren, you’re the analytics and social listening lead at the Creators League Studio. Can you tell us what does this studio do, and what is your role within it and what is your day-to-day work?

Lauren Powell: Sure. So, Creators League Studio is an internal content studio for PepsiCo, and we work primarily with Pepsi beverages, so Pepsi, Mountain Dew, LIFEWTR, bubly, so working on fun beverage brands. But, we are primarily responsible for content, right? So, most of the brands we work with regularly, we’re in charge of their organic social strategy, so trying to figure out what to post on all of the social channels that you have to be present on these days, and creating the content and the strategy for that. We also have a production team that can make long form content, movies, documentaries. It’s a very creative, cool place to be a part of. And, I sit on the strategy team, and I am essentially half numbers and measurement and half culture and trends. So, really I look at measuring the performance of our content and then trying to find trends to inform our content strategy.

Paul: PepsiCo has got so many different areas, so it is really around the beverages and that area where we’d be thinking about and focusing today. And, you previously worked at Anheuser-Busch and at GroupM. Is there any common thread or direction of your journey that’s taken you to Pepsi?

Lauren: Yeah, I mean, I’ve spent my whole career in digital, so I started out at GroupM. I learned media buying, so that’s when I got to where the numbers happen very heavily. I was in Excel all the time, and then I moved on to Anheuser-Busch, and that was where I really started to learn that social listening piece and coupled it with the numbers piece. And, I think progressing in that role, I started to not just look at brand conversations, right? So, originally it was, “How is our content performing? What are people saying about our brands?” And, it became more, “Well, what are people saying in general, and how can we tap into that?” The internet changes, culture changes so quickly, so that’s what I think excites me the most about my career. No day is the same.

Paul: So, now let’s jump right into those cultural changes, and understanding them, and responding to them, and take getting it from the spreadsheet into the creative. Can you tell us how you look for content and cultural trends?

Lauren: Yeah, so it’s been a journey. We now have a really great framework in place because originally it was like, “Let’s just be on social media and just see what’s trending today.” And, as you can imagine, that gets a little overwhelming because there’s so much, and you never know what’s going to make sense for your brand. I work under a brilliant boss and with a brilliant team, and we have a global insights framework that looks at nine human drivers, things like security and connection. And, the way that those manifest every year or every couple of years is different. So, we started to look at these macro trends, and some of the sub-trends within them and start to monitor those. And, we would look for overlap with our brand passion points, areas we want to talk about, or partnerships that we have. And, so in that way, we started to monitor the topics that were relevant and what was trending within them.

And, so now we have a whole process where within our internal studio, we meet once a week to discuss those trends and what we’re seeing. And, then with some of our brands, we meet on a regular basis. I think it’s every other week for Mountain Dew, and we chat Mountain Dew-specific trends, and just ideate around content potential there. So, it’s very fun.

Paul: It’s a really fascinating framework there. The mind drivers, are these kind of universal human motivators? We’re not talking about beverages? We’re talking about the core motivators of people and how those are manifesting in different lens and culture?

Lauren: Yes. We try to be very consumer-centric. We have a consumer centricity team. So yes, they are universal nine drivers, and just the way that they manifest or show up each year is going to change. So, convenience is one of the ways that control manifested in the last year with COVID, so we wanted a lot of convenience. And, so within that, there’s all these sub-trends, on-demand grocery, and really all sorts of delivery, and all of that. So, we start to look at where there’s overlap with our brands, and just see what’s bubbling up and what has potential.

Paul: Control is a driver, and convenience was a manifestation of it, especially during COVID. And, then you can see how that relates to Pepsi’s brands. And, how does understanding these upstream drivers change how you might engage with a passion point or with a cultural trend?

Lauren: It really gives us guardrails. So, I think a lot of people are talking about culture-first marketing or culturally-led marketing. And, I think it’s essential in today’s day and age. There’s so much online, and I think a lot of it’s turning into wallpaper, so to try to break through is hard. And, for that reason, it’s tempting to want to jump on every single social trend that we see, every single meme format, every single Tweet format. But, when you have these human drivers and these territories that you know make sense for your brand and your brand purpose, you’re able to start to say, “Yes or no. This makes sense, or this doesn’t.” So, it helps us not be that brand that’s activating on every trend and annoying consumers by trying to be cool.

Paul: It’s a very interesting parallel because our tools are used a lot in newsrooms, and in editorial functions, and journalists don’t want to be told, “Here’s the stories you should write just because they’re trending.” And, we always say, “No, that’s not the point. You’ve got to have your editorial identity, the integrity, the decisions of the things you know you want to write about and your audience cares about, and then you wanted to see what’s trending within that box.” So, that’s a way of defining that box for Pepsi.

Lauren: Yes. Definitely because if you don’t have those guardrails, like I said, you’re just going to be annoying. You’re not going to really stand for anything. You have to know your brand identity, your brand values, and make sure that what you’re speaking to, you have a right to speak to.

Paul: Great. Okay. Well, let’s talk to the process once you see those cultural trends, passion points, intersection with drivers… You’ve talked about the weekly Mountain Dew and trends meeting. How does that turn into creating content? And, can you walk us through a little bit of the process?

Lauren: Sure, yeah. So, we lead these little, we call them culture rundowns. They’re little mini newsrooms, and in the studio, we all attend, and that includes our creative teams. So, when we have a trend that we think is a good idea for one of our brands, it’s a very fun informal meeting. So, we’ll talk about is there a potential here, and for what brand does it make sense? And, from there we can create an idea maybe just for a quick post, or if it’s something bigger, maybe work a little bit longer on a proposal, and take it to the brand team, and discuss it with them.

For Mountain Dew specifically, we have a dedicated version of that for them every other week. And so it’s us, the strategy team, it’s our creative team, and then the brand team all in a room, looking at these trends, talking about what makes sense. So, if it’s something that’s super real-time, our creative team will be like, “Hey, here’s our idea.” And, then strategy will be like, “Well, this has a deadline. It’s only going to be trending for a couple of days. Let’s turn it around pretty quickly.” And, then sometimes the ideas are bigger or have a longer life cycle, and our creative team will go back to the drawing boards, take some time to put together a really thoughtful proposal, and then workshop it with the brand, and then we post it eventually. We have a content calendar, so we just try to fit it in there where it makes sense.

Paul: Do you have any interesting examples of any activations or content that comes to mind? I’m over here in Europe, and I can’t get Mountain Dew, so something Mountain Dew related would be nice. I miss that drink.

Lauren: Yeah, totally. I think Mountain Dew is such a fun brand because people who love Mountain Dew, they really love Mountain Dew, so we just have this very engaged fan base. And, so last year we had started to notice that, because connection is one of areas we monitor for Mountain Dew…

Paul: [crosstalk] Connection being one of the core drivers?

Lauren: Drivers, yeah. So, we’re looking at all these trends. And one of the sub-trends is online communities. And, we were starting to look at how dating was changing during the pandemic, and there were just a lot of jokes, a lot of memes and sarcasm bubbling up last fall about coupling season or cuffing season – “How am I supposed to find someone to date and couple up with for the holidays in the cold when there’s a pandemic? I’m lonely.”

So, there were all these jokes about it, and we started to monitor that, and see it bubbling up in those weekly meetings. And, our community managers on Mountain Dew had said… We had launched a Dew store with products last summer as well, and people were just loving that type of content. So, we took those two insights, and we decided to make this, this post of a Mountain Dew body pillow. And, we were like, “You love Mountain Dew. It’s probably going to be a long, lonely winter. Here’s something to snuggle with.” And, I actually love this because it was just a post at first. And, I’ve done this before. You create a fake product in a social post, see how people respond. Of course, people loved it. Like I said, Mountain Dew fans love Mountain Dew. So, then we were able to actually create it. It’s such a cool activation to be a part of.

Paul: And, it’s great to be able to test through the engagement with the post and people, well actually there is a product here.

Lauren: Yes.

Paul: And, put the concept out right away.

Lauren: I did that in the past too. When I was working on Bud Light, we ended up doing the same thing with pool floats back when the summer of pool floats was a big thing. So, that’s actually a format I love. Do an Instagram post of a fake product that’s funny, see how people respond, and then actually go make it.

Paul: When you create something like that, you’re focused I suppose initially on owned channels, but are you also thinking about parent influencers? How far downstream are you going, and how do you think about distribution?

Lauren: Yeah, so we’re primarily responsible for organic social, but we do partner. I love our bigger agency team. We partner really closely with PR when they have a great idea and how to bring that to life on social, and they’re also wonderful about getting press for that. So, it’s a huge team effort. I mean, everyone involved, everyone has the same vision and the same goal, so it’s very fun.

Paul: And, I suppose related as well, does the Creators Studio have a briefing around purpose and corporate social responsibility, those other dimensions? Are you doing listening around those and activations around those too?

Lauren: Yeah. NewsWhip Spike has been a huge part of our process in the last year. Those of us who are stateside know that it hasn’t been the greatest year for culture and society in general. And, so when something major happens that’s going to affect a lot of people, we want to be sensitive to that. We want to make sure that we’re not posting funny memes and/or advertisements at a time that nobody wants to see that. So, we are really using tools like NewsWhip to monitor how big is the conversation? What does interest look like? What is the tonality and the sentiment, and tuning into that to make sure we are being appropriate with, when, and what we post.

Paul: I can imagine. Especially with the 12 months that we’ve just been through. And, does that impact timing and might that also impact the tone of a campaign or an idea?

Lauren: It definitely has, and I think that you have something planned and then you have to push it back a few days or rework it, but that’s the right thing to do. We want to be respectful of people’s emotions and what they’re going through. We’ve really built out that work stream, obviously the last year out of necessity. I will say, I feel like we’re in a good place, and tuning into what people are talking about is always going to be important.

Paul: You’ve got the ongoing dynamic monitoring, then you’ve got big events and moments that you knew were coming up in the calendar, like this famous advertising convention called the Super Bowl, or there’s these moments. How do you prepare for those in the studio? Is there an intersection of the real-time monitoring and listening, and what you’ve got prepared, that happens when a big event is taking place?

Lauren: Yeah. Super Bowl for us starts very early. Honestly, as soon as it ends, people are looking forward to the next year, but I will say our big war room planning process probably starts in November, December, and we decide who’s going to be responsible for what, start to talk about roles, and what we want to do. This past year I think was my sixth or seventh Super Bowl, so I’ve been doing it for a while. But, in the war room, we just want to monitor what people are saying about our brands, about the other advertisers. So, we have NewsWhip up as one of our screens, and we look at what’s trending. If there’s something that mentions us and is going viral, viral being quite a bit of interaction, it’s shooting to the top of the interaction charts, we will work with our amazing community managers and copywriters to see is this an opportunity to engage, or respond, or retweet or all of those things? So, it’s the most fun, just high energy activation.

Paul: When you were in that position as well, unexpected dimensions of something are the ones that people pick up on, right? Like the Bernie Sanders mittens, then you’re in position to respond, you can see that going viral, see how big it’s going to become, and respond quickly.

Lauren: Yeah, and I think that’s why it’s so important to have everybody in one room. You’ve got the creative team who are doing their thing, and the community managers spotting opportunities and coming up with funny ideas, and you have brand team right there who can say, “Yes or no, this makes sense for our brand and our voice.” It’s such a cool process to see come to life.

Paul: I suppose in social media, we’re often thinking about the new emerging networks, communities. Are there any social channels, communities, or even just dynamics that are changing around and within the platforms that interest you at the moment or that you’re trying to learn more about?

Lauren: Yeah. There’s been so much that has changed in the last year. I mean, I can’t get through this webinar without talking about TikTok which of course is the wild west. It is a super interesting platform, but it’s also one where I feel like you have room to play. So, some of our ideas that do come out of our little cultural rundowns or newsrooms are TikTok, and it’s just trying something out. I think it’s so fun when you have a platform like that, that’s new. You’re trying to figure out because you can just try things without pressure. There’s no expectation that this needs to go viral or it needs to do this, but you learn a lot from that.

It’s cool too, because I think TikTok influences the other platforms, so you’ll see it come to life on Instagram, and so you can repurpose. We’re also trying to figure out what in the heck to do about Clubhouse and these new audio-only type places. I think Reddit is also a big one for us. I know you guys allow monitoring there which has been huge for us. We have a big community for Mountain Dew on Reddit. I really love it because it’s no longer just a Facebook, Instagram world anymore, and Twitter. I think there’s communities popping up everywhere, and it’s going to be really fun to evolve.

Paul: Yeah. When we were briefing people, especially on how to think about Reddit, you’ve got these very passionate communities and often very knowledgeable communities, and they’re probably really paying attention to what’s written on the can promotions, anything really probably going on in the Mountain Dew world. It’s a very committed people. Have you learned anything from those communities? Can you find passion points there that might be able to go large with bigger audiences and other platforms?

Lauren: There’s definitely seeds of insights across the platforms. I think our community on Reddit really talks a lot about flavors, and products, and what their favorite things are, and what they wish we’d bring back. It’s a great place to monitor for our actual product and development team and innovation. So yeah, it’s a great place for that. And, I think depending on your brand, you might get different insights there, but we have a very active community of flavor enthusiasts and reviewers there.

Paul: We love thinking about flavors over here too. In fact, Danielle writes a lot about flavors, our show’s producer. The trends come hard and fast there. I think people are always chasing and jumping onto the newest ones. Pickles are back every two weeks in some strange new form, right?

Lauren: There are. I keep waiting for it to be the summer of pickles, because that’s what it was going to be three summers ago. Maybe this is the one where it just builds to a peak. We’ll see.

Paul: You said at the very start, you’re coming into this farther from Excel, from measuring and looking at what succeeded, and what’s worked, and what hasn’t, and evaluating campaigns. So, what metrics and data do you use to guide content creation? You’ve kind of answered this already, but maybe if you’ve got any other thoughts on it. And, how do you measure campaign success afterwards, and are those different metrics?

Lauren: Sure. I think there’s no perfect metric, so I tend to just look at all of them, and try to make sense of the larger story. I mean, obviously engagement rate is going to be important on social. I try to look more at rich or meaningful engagements. A lot of platforms will include a video view as an engagement which of course naturally skews video content to be higher performing than static. So, I tend to take views out and look at just meaningful engagements, likes, shares, retweets, those types of things. We’ll look at the amount of organic impressions because it’s tied to engagements then where people engage, the more that piece of content is going to show in feeds. And then of course, mentions and sentiment, super important. Are we actually getting talked about, not just engaged on our content, but are people talking about us tweeting about us?

And, then followers. Followers are a great indication that you’re creating stuff that people want to see. So, we look over the course of the month. Was there a spike in followers here? And if so, what did we do that got that? So, those are the big ones. I think for the big campaigns, the really important ones… I mean, everything’s important, but things that have a bit more to them, we are looking at launch day reports, real-time, and then of course every campaign gets a recap. We do things weekly, and monthly reports as well. Lots and lots of reporting.

Paul: Yeah. There’s so many data points. It always ends up back in Excel somehow.

Lauren: Somehow it’s back to Excel, although we built some dashboards that automate a little bit of this for us, so that’s nice. We can focus on a little more time on the trends and research.

Paul: Good, I’m glad to hear that. We talked a bit about distribution mode. Which would be the networks that you’re focused the most on today? TikTok as the new kid on the block, or Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or the others, and which would be the key ones for audiences of Pepsi’s brands?

Lauren: Sure. I mean, every brand has a unique channel strategy because the types of people who are active on different platforms vary. I would say for most brands, Instagram’s very important. I think that’s probably one of the more popular ones right now. TikTok is something that a lot of people have interested in and are starting to learn how to prioritize. I think Facebook for some brands is a standby and is super important. And then Twitter, I would say a lot of our brands activate on it. Not every single one. So you can see it’s, it just depends on the brand. Some have different priorities than others.

Paul: Brilliant. And, we’ll probably be on some new network in a couple of years again hopefully. I hope that the ecosystem keeps throwing up some exciting new vistas for us. I see Danielle’s got a couple of audience questions that have come in, and she’s just sent me our five minute warning. If anyone does want to drop a question, you can drop it into the chat either to Danielle or to us all, and we’ll see it there. But please, if you have any questions for Lauren, drop them in. One of the, I suppose, questions that has come in here, it is a future prediction question. How do you think content generation will change in the next five years? So, I suppose that could be either how you’re creating content, and where it’s going, and which networks it’s going out on, and what will stay the same?

Lauren: Oh, goodness. No, that’s a lot. I think there’s two things that come to mind immediately. One is that Gen Z is changing the nature of social, and I think that we’re going from a very curated look to a much more authentic look. So, I think TikTok has been called like a bedroom medium in that it’s people literally just sitting on their bedroom floor talking to their phones, and that can go viral. So, there’s going to be this element of peeling back the curtain, and brands are going to have to learn how to adapt. It’s not going to be quite as curated and perfect as it has been in some regards, I think, depending on your brand tone of voice.

And, I think the other thing is just the growing importance of influencers and content creators in general. I think there’s so much talent out there that’s just individual. People are teaching themselves how to make social content at home. And, so I think that there’s going to be a lot more talent to pull from. And, I think for that reason, we’re going to see a variance in the types of content. I’m excited. I think it’s just going to continue to get better.

Paul: It’s funny. As you were saying that, it makes me think about it from the perspective of a lot of our users are in communications, and you’re moving from a very polished press release to a position where a brand is just saying things, finding a way to have an authentic real-time voice. And, you’re going from trying to get that slot in the New York Times, that ultimate earned media, to networks of influencers and micro-influencers that might be much more relevant to your brand, so it’s a big change in how you think about the network and an influence. I’ve got a question from Cathy. Do you have strategies for building these smaller trends into larger company moves or commentaries on how society is shifting?

Lauren: Strategies for building smaller trends into larger company moves?

Paul: I suppose, informing company strategy based on the smaller trends that you’re seeing. Cathy, you can let us know if we’ve interpreted that right.

Lauren: I think it’s about distribution, so it’s hard for me as someone who uses digital and social media as a central part of my job, and really my life. I enjoy getting on TikTok, and scrolling, and seeing what people are doing. It’s about getting that type of expertise in a place where they’re sharing their insights out. So, I lead a culture rundown with one of my teammates in the studio, and we actually do a culture rundown once a month for all of PBNA marketing or Pepsi Beverage marketing, and talk about the trends. It’s getting that expertise who can figure out how to monitor these trends, how to make sense of them, and then figuring out the distribution. Is it a weekly meeting, a monthly meeting, is it an internal newsletter? What does that look like? That’s probably my answer for the process.

Paul: But, do the insights from that filter up and start turning the aircraft carrier around sometimes as well? This authenticity trend, for example, that has to be something that at some point, I guess people say we need to address this long-term. People don’t like glossy any more perhaps.

Lauren: Yeah. We’re still trying to kind of figure that out. I think that what’s amazing, and what I love about working for Pepsi is our leadership team is so plugged in, and they really have faith in their talent and their team. And, so we get the resources to research that, and they do listen. I’ve been a part of organizations where that’s not the case.

Paul: Brilliant. I think having that continuum is going to be really important for big companies into the future. That’s brilliant. Thanks for answering. I think getting so much into a short time with us today, Lauren, that’s been a really brilliant interview, and thanks to the audience for joining.

For those who can make it in two weeks, at the same time, we’re going to have a really interesting conversation on something that’s very topical, the future of storytelling in health care communications with [Becky Vonsiatsky], who is the leader of [Practice Leader of Earned Media at] Real Chemistry, formally known as W2O Agency. And, she’s going to be talking about some very relevant trends with us, and has a big team that mixes both Earned social media strategy and journalism. So, that should be a great discussion in two weeks. Please come. Lauren, this has been awesome. Thanks for joining us today.

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