"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun. The hood orbits the bodega."
That's how The Kid Mero of the Bodega Boys podcast describes the transcendent role such local establishments play in urban communities nationwide. Mero and his BB partner Desus Nice explore the deeper significance of these neighborhood emporiums in a four-minute film from Pepsi and VaynerMedia.
The video anchors a holiday campaign celebrating bodegas in New York City. Desus and Mero visit JJN Corp Deli and Grocery in the Bronx and hang with Juan Valerio, the shop's owner for 30 years, and his teenage son, Jefferson.
Long-time customers explain what JJN means to them. It's the lifeblood of the streets, they say, as much a source of continuity, connection and camaraderie as a go-to destination for groceries, freshly made sandwiches and laundry essentials. They speak with real emotion about the kindness of Valerio, who addresses his struggles to buy the shop and keep the business going.
Back in the day, "it was a dream that seemed unreachable," he says. "I never thought I would achieve it. And now, this is what I do. My whole life is here."
When he briefly closed in April after the death of his father, the community shared his pain. JJN is like a beacon, they say, and when it shut down, their lives darkened considerably.
To thank him for three decades of commitment and service, Nero and Desus present Valerio with a very special gift:
Major feels erupt around JJN's front counter when the Bodega Boys spring their big surprise: Pepsi will cover Valerio's rent payment next year. "I have to stay with the community because they were always with me," he says, choking back tears. "I'll never abandon them."
The work—initially developed by PR agency Acceleration Community of Companies—really resonates amid the current crisis. The campaign mirrors a similar effort by Rakuten and Stephen Curry to help honor and support folks who make the world a better place every day.
Through Dec. 20, Pepsi will surprise bodega shoppers across New York's five boroughs with gift cards of up to $100. Also, the brand invites folks to share uplifting stories using the #PepsiBodega hashtag.
Below, Umi Patel, chief marketer for the North Division of PepsiCo Beverages North America, puts the initiative in perspective:
Why showcase this particular bodega?
"We were drawn to Juan's story because it's so clear he has an impact on his community," Patel says. "Like many New Yorkers, and so many people all over the world right now, Juan's story is not uncommon. He suffered a great deal of loss when his father died from Covid-19, but through it all, he found the strength to keep going back to work because he knew his customers—his community and friends—needed him. He has been by their side, providing materials and goods that they needed more than ever these last few months. He's hard-working, dedicated and passionate."
Recruiting the bodega boys.
"We had not worked with the Bodega Boys before," she says. "We knew we were going to tell a truly New York story, and we wanted to partner with influential people in the NYC community. Desus and Mero grew up in the Bronx, going to their own corner bodegas, and this campaign resonated with them for that reason. They have a craft of connecting with everyone. We knew they would bring levity and light to a story that touches on loss and change."
Much to be thankful for.
"We filmed just a few weeks ago—Thanksgiving Eve," Patel recalls. "Juan had no idea we were going to surprise him with rent, nor did his son. They had no idea Desus and Mero were going to surprise them, either. They were told we were doing a documentary film on bodegas. We wanted to make sure what we captured what authentic and raw. That's exactly what you see on film—genuine shock and emotion."
New York, New York.
"NYC is the center of the holiday season, and as a New York-based brand, we knew we wanted to do something special here," she says. "The season is going to look different without tourists from around the world crowding the streets and celebrations happening on every block, so we wanted to make a holiday campaign that was reflective of the times, and that honored the essential workers of the communities."
The film will run on Pepsi's social channels—and across Bodega Boys' platforms as well—in addition to paid integrations with the New York Post and Time Out NY.
Client: Pepsi, North Division of PepsiCo Beverages North America
Campaign Concept, Talent Management, PR, Communications: Acceleration Community of Companies
Content Creative Development and Production: VaynerMedia/VaynerProductions
Directed by Randy Wilkins
Paid Media Strategy and Consumer Experiential: Motive
Creative Oversight: Creators League Studios