Design, Communication and PR
in the social media driven society

By Mauro Porcini
In the past few years, Design has radically changed with an acceleration never before experienced. The silos of product design, graphics, fashion, interior, digital and architecture are starting to overlap and blend more and more: the walls that once set them apart are being taken down by the ineluctable consumers’ quest for product and brand experiences that are holistic, coherent, ‘dense’ of meaning, relevant and accessible.

The reason for this profound transformation is found in the new global and digital economy and in the impact of this new scenario on the world of innovation and brand building.

The world is hyperconnected 24/7, permeated by a sharing attitude - sometimes obsessive and mostly without boundaries. The traditional entry barriers to mass communication – e.g. investments in TV advertising – have been essentially destroyed by social media. Internet is facilitating access to investments and capital – “crowd-funding enablers” such as kickstarter.com or the nature of multiple startups in Silicon Valley are just some of the examples of this new world. Manufacturing costs are being drastically reduced mostly because of the role of Asia in the global market.

This new reality has leveled the competitive landscape, generating a rapid growth of new ideas, brands and companies and undermining the difference between established brands and new entrants.

The key dimension to decodify this change is not only a quantitative one of the number of new actors in the market, but also one related to the frequency of entrance of those new brands into that same market.

The huge number of ‘new things’ that, absent the boundaries of space and time, we are bombarded with daily– a new phone, a new song, a new fashion brand, a new book, a new celebrity – is creating a society in which consumers ‘consume’ content at the speed of light, hungry for that new thing, stimulated by the desire of ‘feeding’ themselves continuously with those new things. 

Therefore, companies need to rapidly adapt to this new reality and work on two main dimensions: the relevance of their content – product, service, communication – and the pace and frequency of their innovation.  The direct implication is that it’s becoming more and more necessary to understand – faster and better – consumers’ needs and wants, articulated and latent, in order to create not only products or objects but ecosystems of meaning, authentic, coherent and relevant stories, to be accessed through physical experiences and shared through digital conversations.

We need, therefore, to create a sharp, consistent and clear vision of the product positioning and of its value system, spreading it across every touchpoint of the brand: from product to packaging, from retail experience and digital channel to events and performances, from interaction with the customer service to TV communication and press.

In this new scenario, Design has an essential role - becoming that function, that approach, that culture and that process that connects all other functions and know-how around an idea, sharply focused on consumers and users’ needs and desires. Leveraging the professional toolkit of the discipline – the ability to visualize, create, prototype and storytell through objects – Design aligns everybody in a business context around one vision and generates an authentic story to be shared with society and to be experienced throughout every touchpoint of the brand.

The impact of this specific approach in the world of PR and communication is extraordinary. A few years ago brands were built with top down, one-directional, TV centered communication: the brand was the leading actor, the consumer was the recipient and television was the main channel. Social media has completely destabilized this model: the brand is losing the role of lead actor in the conversation and becoming the topic of that conversation among users. And, therefore, brands today are no longer able to purchase their right to be part of the conversation - they must earn it through content relevance and frequency. 

One of the most interesting aspects of this new scenario is that in order to gain access to the stage of the online conversation, we need to meaningfully activate products and brands first and foremost offline.  And this is where PR and communication start to play a role that is more relevant than ever.

Conscious of this new social scenario, PepsiCo is extremely active in this world, activating a constant dialogue born from partnerships and collaborations with the world of music, sport, movie, fashion, arts and broader creativity. From fashion collections inspired by Pepsi brand equity with Vogue Italia and Franca Sozzani, to the ones with multiple Chinese designers for Shanghai Fashion Week all the way to the products created in partnership with brands such as Del Toro, Liberty of London, Bang & Olufsen, Shut and Penguin sold at Bloomingdale’s, Colette and other retailers around the world, each of these collaborations has generated millions of conversations online.

Another interesting case is Pepsi Perfect, the bottle of cola originally created for an iconic Eighties movie and reinterpreted by our design team. We launched the product on October 21, 2015, the exact date in which the story takes place in the cult movie, and the result was overwhelming. The dialogue and the buzz generated by this activation was comparable to global media events like Super Bowl.

What makes such content ‘magic’ is that they are not imposed on the consumer. We, as consumers, own that content. It becomes ‘ours’ through the ‘three phase process of Discovering, Owning and Sharing.

PR functions as filter and facilitator to amplify the impact of the content in the digital conversation, leveraging influencers, trend setters, opinion leaders and consumers.

Events that in the past used to be less relevant compared to more traditional TV advertising – able to reach millions of viewers – today through social media become more important than ever.  

Design is the new actor that, in collaboration with the marketing function, creates authentic and relevant stories through products and brands.

PR and communication have an extraordinary role to play, acting as amplifiers, direct and indirect, to multiply the impact of those stories in an exponential way both offline and online.


Mauro Porcini