While some essential workers received a chorus of accolades in the advertising world in the first couple phases of pandemic marketing, others have continued on in the background without much of a nod from the folks who rely on them day in and day out.
Convenience and grocery store workers certainly fall into the latter category. In New York City, of course, that’s the bodega owner and worker—a community staple for nearly everyone who lives in one of the five boroughs.
Heading into the holiday season, Pepsi’s north division—which encompasses New York City—chose to turn the spotlight onto bodegas with more than a short-lived round of applause. The campaign, which launches today, includes a short film highlighting one bodega in the Bronx that’s been hit particularly hard this year.
In the film, titled The Bodega Giveback, Desus Nice and The Kid Mero—the Bronx-based comedy duo behind the Bodega Boys podcast and hosts of Showtime’s late-night show Desus & Mero—surprise Juan Valerio, the owner of JJN Corp Deli and Grocery, with news that Pepsi will be covering his rent for the next year. It’s also sending spotter vans to 14 bodegas around the boroughs from today through Dec. 20, where representatives will pass out prepaid credit cards to patrons on their way into the bodega, encouraging them to spend the extra money at the store. Separately, 20 additional bodegas will receive cash prizes, in varying amounts, from Pepsi during the holiday season.
“Bodegas are the lifeblood of the neighborhood and are central to the culture of New York,” Desus Nice and The Kid Mero said in a statement. “We’re children of immigrants—Juan’s story is our story—so we’re excited to work with Pepsi to be able to pay it forward and help him like he has done for so many.”
An active member of the tight-knit community surrounding his bodega, Valerio has been working in the bodega for 30 years since he came to the U.S. at 16 years old. Now he owns it.
“My whole life is here,” he explains in the short film.
In April, Valerio lost his father to Covid-19. He initially closed the store for a few days, but quickly reopened as a way to honor his father.
“It’s something very powerful, to lose what you love the most in a split second,” Valerio said. “He always taught me to work. Staying closed was disrespectful to him.”
The Bodega Giveback, produced by VaynerMedia, also includes input from several community members who’ve been relying on JJN Corp Deli and Grocery, for decades. They testify to the ways that the bodega has supported them over the years, such as postponing payment on essentials during hard times and staying stocked and open during the pandemic when supply lines were strained.
“I’m getting choked up about it now,” Audrey Eaddy, a community member who said she’s been shopping at the bodega for 29 years, said in the film. “It really serves the community.”
Umi Patel, Pepsi’s chief marketing officer for the north division, noted that the pandemic has taken a toll on bodegas in a lot of ways. In addition to income loss limiting consumer spending, there are also far fewer tourists circulating around the city—a significant source of patronage for many small business owners.
Patel also stressed how important bodegas are for Pepsi as a business. “There are markets that are heavily reliant on small business like bodegas,” she said. “New York City is one of them.”