NEW YORK: PepsiCo, the food and beverage giant, is combining crowdsourcing, social media and corporate social responsibility as it seeks to find new ways of engaging consumers.

In 2010, the owner of Gatorade and Quaker Oats opted against advertising during the Super Bowl, a cornerstone of its strategy going back 23 years, and instead emphasised on the Pepsi Refresh Project.

This online initiative allowed netizens to submit, and express their support for, schemes aiming to rejuvenate local communities in the US.

Over 120,000 proposals have been received to date, attracting more than 75m votes, and PepsiCo has handed out $20m (€14.5m; £12.4m) to roughly 400 plans, with the awards falling between $5,000 and $250,000.

Nearly 19% of votes thus far were cast using Facebook, while the organisation also deployed Twitter and blogs to encourage buzz across the internet.

As part of an in-house objective to increase the number of ideas generated, the company recently asked visitors to its portal how the Project should evolve in 2011.

Furthermore, it held focus groups on Facebook to achieve the same goal, and interviewed participants that had previously secured grants.

"Anyone can make good things even better and have fun doing so," Jill Beraud, cmo/president, joint ventures at PepsiCo Beverages Americas, said in a statement.

"Consumers spoke up and we listened, setting into motion the vibrant changes we've made to the programme."

The alterations to be implemented include introducing new tiers of funding and almost doubling the amount of money distributed each month, with around $1m going to good causes in this period.

Elsewhere, the range of categories has been enhanced, now covering arts and music, communications, education and a "rotating" sector chosen by the public on a monthly basis.

Similarly, the means through which people can choose their favourite suggestions will extend to Twitter, text messages and a dedicated mobile app, alongside special on-pack codes offering "power votes".

According to Shiv Singh, PepsiCo Beverages America's head of digital, such activities reach far beyond traditional notions of CSR, and establish industry benchmarks.

"This was not a corporate philanthropy effort," he said.

"This was using brand dollars with the belief that when you use these brand dollars to have consumers share ideas to change the world, the consumers will win, the brand will win, and the community will win."

"That was a big bet. No one has done it on this scale before."

While sales levels are often employed in judging the success of marketing campaigns, Singh stated different metrics may be necessary to assess the Refresh Project's performance.

"It was designed to drive brand health," he told the New York Times. "We look at brand equity, brand health and sales - and we have seen movement in all of them."

Alongside boosting these measures, the data gathered yields significant insights into popular preferences.

"There have been 120,000 ideas submitted," Singh continued. "It gives us a strong sense of what matters to them and what is exciting to them."

Bonin Bough, PepsiCo's global director, digital and social media, also argued the use of Web 2.0 properties could deliver long-lasting benefits.

"But most important is the power of these platforms to help individuals build communities to help support their efforts and ideas," he said.

"These communities will exist long after and are a testament to the type of social impact programs like this can have."

Data sourced from PepsiCo, Forbes, New York Times; additional content by Warc staff