Super Bowl, millions of viewers caught a Pepsi commercial

During the recent Super Bowl, millions of viewers caught a Pepsi commercial, one that some say represents an historic first. The unusual ad featured a silent, 60-second joke: Two guys drive to their friend Bob’s house to watch the big game. Once they get to his street, neither remembers his address. So they sit in the car arguing in sign language until one of them gets a clever idea and lays on the horn. One by one, the houses light up-except for Bob’s.

Clay Broussard, who plays Bob, also developed the commercial and has worked for PepsiCo in Dallas for 27 years. Though he is not deaf, the two actors who play his friends, Brian Dowling and Darren Therriault, are. They’re also Broussard’s coworkers and members of PepsiCo’s EnAble, an employee network for associates with different abilities and for caregivers. The three-year-old organization was founded to influence and provide guidance to the company, which also owns Frito Lay, Gatorade, Tropicana and Quaker, so that people with different abilities were included at all levels. Now more than 300 PepsiCo associates strong, EnAble has chapters in New York, California, Ohio, Washington, Arizona, Florida and Texas.

Chet Cooper: How did you get involved with EnAble?

Clay Broussard: I have some familiarity with deaf culture, so EnAble interested me; I joined to see what I could contribute. We have a real culture of diversity and inclusion among our various employee networks
at Pepsi.

Cooper: How did you get familiar with the deaf culture?

Broussard: My wife and I attended a church where everything was entirely in sign language for seven or eight years. There was no voicing of anything at all. So that was a real immersion.

Cooper: How did you choose that particular church?

Broussard: In the congregation that we were part of at the time, there were a couple of deaf people and there was some interpreting. The deaf people became our friends and taught some of us sign language. As that group grew, there was enough people to form a new congregation where sermons could be held completely in sign language, and where the topics would be addressed directly in the native language rather than interpreted. Sign language interpreting is not a direct way of communicating with deaf people.

Cooper: In the new congregation, what was the percentage of people who were deaf, and what was the percentage of people, such as yourself and your wife?

Broussard: We talked about keeping track, but consciously decided not to because we figured we’re not counting how many black people or white people are here, so why would we count the number of deaf vs. hearing? I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and we support all kinds of languages. So it was an outgrowth of our work in that community in terms of education, and I would say there’s probably now a hundred or so congregations across the U.S. that are conducted entirely in sign language.

Cooper: You say “now.” Do you think you were one of the first?

Broussard: I think we were among the first 40.

Cooper: So did that experience draw you into what was going on within your work?

Broussard: What happened was a local chapter of EnAble formed here in Dallas, and I thought: This sounds pretty cool. As I have some experience with this aspect of diversity, why don’t I see what I can contribute? I joined and started listening to the goals and missions that EnAble had locally. You may not have heard this, but EnAble wants PepsiCo to be the brand of choice and the employer of choice among people with different abilities. And so we talked about objectives, such as accommodation and acceptability, which foster the conditions for being an employer of choice.

Becoming the brand of choice is more esoteric for people. How do you get to that? You can do it through traditional means, such as participating in Multiple Sclerosis walks and activities such as that, but I thought: How can we bring it into marketing and advertising and really demonstrate to the outside world what our culture is all about at PepsiCo? Because I’m familiar with the deaf culture, I thought: Let’s borrow a joke from it and tell it the PepsiCo way, featuring our products and our people and do it in a language that the rest of the world can get and find humorous.

Cooper: Did you run into any bottlenecks within the company? (Sorry)

Broussard: (laughs) As a soft drink company, we try to avoid bottlenecks. Fortunately, everybody from the top to the bottom of this organization who heard about the concept was intrigued by it. For some, it was a little esoteric, so we had to make a demo version. But once we got the demo finished, people could see it, and they got excited.

Cooper: It became tangible. So how did you make the demo?

Broussard: First I hired an artist to do a storyboard of the ad concept. We then took the storyboard and floated it past deaf employees inside PepsiCo to say, “What do you think of this? Is it right? Does it match the culture? How would it be received by both the deaf community and the hearing community?” This group remained on the project throughout as consultants.

Once we had their input, I went to marketing and said, “Here’s an idea that the employee network EnAble is exploring. Tell me what your advice and counsel would be.” And they gave us some great advice about focus-groups studies and achieving authenticity and things like that. So we did focus groups and asked maybe 10 or 12 questions to get feedback. Nearly all the survey responses we got were incredibly positive, with less than three percent coming back with anything negative.
Cooper: Those were probably the people who fell asleep during the focus group.

Broussard: (laughs) So then my senior executive allowed me to go forward with the demo. I hired a local video production company to do it, and we used all PepsiCo employees. The hardest part was convincing my wife to let me use our house.

Cooper: Was that your house in the commercial?

Broussard: No, we only used it in the demo, which was a bit different. In that version, we started inside a house and showed them watching a game. After we shot the demo, my senior executive presented it to the senior executive level team, and there was immediate enthusiasm. They green-lighted the project and said, “We want to fast-track this to the Super Bowl and give it as broad an audience as we can.”

Cooper: And the rest is history… So what’s next for you?

Broussard: I’ve been asked, “Are there follow-up concepts?” There are a couple of concepts we’re considering. I’m still a little new to the mysteries of marketing. I don’t know how those things get determined. But we’ve got ideas to contribute.

Cooper: So those ideas will be sent up the flagpole the way you did before?

Broussard: Yeah, and I think marketing will determine if it’s something we want to pursue. But in the meantime, the Super Bowl ad is getting distributed over the Internet, which has really been huge. While the Super Bowl attracted 90 million households, what’s interesting is that whe
n content on the Internet goes “viral”-millions upon millions of people forwarding it along to friends and coworkers-it can potentially reach even more people.

The reception the ad received on the Internet was tremendous, beyond anything I would have conceived of, and it quickly went to, like, number three on YouTube. I’ve been told that of the 90 million viewers who watched in on TV, one in 10 households had somebody deaf or hard of hearing in the household.

Cooper: I think there are roughly 28 million people that are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Broussard: It struck me what a large percentage of the community would identify with the ad. We wanted to tell a story that featured diversity and inclusion in a way that would appeal to a broad audience and in a way that was humorous.

Cooper: I think humor is a common denominator.

Broussard: On the business end, we figured: “This has a classic element of typical PepsiCo advertising: fun, humor and a good product.”

Cooper: What other activities are you working on?

Broussard: There are some things that I’m working on. We had a large company reach out to us after the ad was shown, saying, “We’re interested in talking about accessibility awareness, would PepsiCo consider working with us on that?” So that’s something we’re discussing now.

Cooper: That’s interesting, that you might provide awareness training to other companies.

Broussard: I’m currently working with the Dallas Mayor’s Committee for the Employment of Persons with Disabilities-a forum of businesses in the Dallas metroplex – to determine how to create awareness of this topic inside our community. Last year we sponsored a breakfast for local area HR people on the topic of “onboarding” persons of different abilities… continued in ABILITY Magazine

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Other articles in the Sandra Lee issue include Headlines — NY’s New Gov, Dancing with Marlee and more; Green Pages — Living With Ed, Fair Trade Goodies; Best Practices — Companies Doing It Right; Starbucks — A New Perspective on Diversity; Accessible Alaska — Cruising the Wilderness; DRLC — Removing Barriers to Education; Senator Harkin — Voting Access for All; Allen Rucker — Ahhh! A Trip to the Spa; Rohan Murphy — Paralympic Powerhouse; Walter Reed — Performing for the Troops; ABILITY’s Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences…subscribe