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Social Marketing Gone Awry: Pepsi Refresh Needs To Refresh Its Security Settings

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This year, instead of spending $20 million on SuperBowl ads, Pepsi decided to put the money into Pepsi Refresh, a social marketing campaign which solicits the best ideas from consumers and plans to dole out $20 million in grants to good causes and “great ideas” throughout the year. The site opened up about 10 hours ago to take ideas from people applying for grants. On February 1, voting will begin to determine the best ideas, which will receive grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 each.

It’s a bold experiment in social marketing, but it is also risky. Not helping matters is the fact that the Pepsi Refresh site isn’t working properly. An attempt to submit an idea resulted in a database error. But even worse, applicants’ personal information was compromised. Reports Rick Delashmit with Farmers4Good, who was trying to submit a proposal for a “Taste Buds” project to promote healthy eating habits of fruits and vegetables among school children, via an email to us:

There were also HUGE privacy problems last night as each time you tried to submit your plan, it would be linked to some other applicants personal information. This happened for everyone…..epic fail.

name, email address, city, state, zip and their entire plan that they were submitting along with how much $$ they were asking for. I was actually getting random emails last night from other folks who were trying to submit and they were getting my info attached to their plans….craziness.

The complaints are also piling up on the Pepsi Refresh Facebook Fan page, where the latest message from Pepsi acknowledges, “We are aware of site issues and are working towards getting everything resolved.” Some of the comments on that page echo what Delashmit experienced:

—Its all screwed up now when you press submit I actuall get a persons name and their info…

—Looks like the database records are corrupted – as I go through the pages, another person’s appliction is coming up.

The Pepsi Refresh site is similar in functionality to other crowdsourced idea generating efforts such as Dell’s IdeaStorm (which is run on top of Salesforce.com) and the type of sites created by UserVoice, although it is not clear who created the site on behalf of Pepsi. I have contacted Pepsi to find out and will update if I hear back from them.

Regardless, this is not a good way to launch a massive social marketing campaign aimed at fostering warm-and-fuzzy feelings towards Pepsi. Hopefully, it can fix things quickly and recover because it’s actually a pretty good idea if Pepsi can get past the technical and privacy snafus.

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