Pepsi vs. Cola: The Marketing Battle of the Century

posted on 11th Sep 2018

Last weekend I was scrolling through documentaries to watch on Amazon Prime when I came across Pepsi vs. Cola: The Marketing Battle of the Century. The marketer in me was intrigued to watch the 53 minute documentary on the battle between the two giants. Along with a decent history lesson, I came away with 5 key takeaways I learned from a century of rivalry between these two global brands.

1. Innovation is the foundation of the cola wars

This probably seems obvious, but it’s so important in the Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola story. Coke was the first innovator of the soft drink industry that had all imitators following in their footsteps for the majority of the 20th century. Pepsi didn’t have a chance in the beginning – Coke was the pioneer of modern advertisement as well as the first to put its product into a bottle making it available to everyone and for the lowest price. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Pepsi would no longer be referred to as “the imitator” but as a true competitor to Coke. To this day, both brands are constantly trying to one-up each other with innovation from new flavours, digital marketing campaigns and interactive touchscreen fountains.

 

2. Delivering an attainable product trumps brand reputation

This might not reign as true these days but it did in the 1920s. At the height of the Great Depression, Pepsi came up with a new strategy to stay in the game. The company doubled the size of the bottle to 12oz and sold it for a nickel, while Coke sold their 6oz bottle at the same price. With the Great Depression in full swing, Pepsi became a popular choice in the poorer communities because it was all they could afford, sequentially cheapening the brand’s reputation. Pepsi became known as a low-class beverage, while Coke remained a symbol of an eternal America unaffected by the Great Depression. But revenue was steady for Pepsi. It’s said that people would buy Pepsi to pour into a Coke glass, hoping guests wouldn’t notice. So who’s the real winner here?

3. Sell the user, not the product

In the early 1960s, Pepsi created a new advertising campaign called Pepsi Generation – you may remember the famous jingle ‘Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation.’ Aimed at the younger generation, the goal was to emphasize to the consumer that if you like these people in this commercial and you feel that they are like you than you are a Pepsi drinker. It’s the idea of selling the users against selling the soft drink itself. Coke was slow to respond, not aiming their advertisements at the key target audience (the baby boomers). That was until the 1970s with Coke’s most famous ad – 1971 Hilltop.

4. Consumers do not buy taste and consumers do not buy blind

In 1975, Pepsi developed a new campaign to get consumers drinking called The Pepsi Challenge – a side by side blind taste test between the two brands. It turned out that consumers did prefer the taste of Pepsi over Coke. In response, Coke spent years trying to come up with a new formula and in 1985 New Coke was put on the shelves. And It was a disaster, to say the least. Nervous breakdowns happened that summer as hate mail poured into Coca-Cola’s offices and Pepsi gave employees the day off to celebrate. So what went wrong? Not testing what would happen if the old Coke was removed was Coke’s biggest fault. The company only tested what people thought of New Coke in terms of taste, not recognizing that consumers do not buy taste and do not buy blind. Ironically, it reminded consumers of the place Coke has in their hearts and the company recovered just fine. 

5. Every brand needs an enemy

It would be a shame if one or the other won because the cola wars are so much fun to watch. With all the marketing successes or fails between the two brands, one thing stands true – they both have pushed each other to provide the best product for their consumers. Keeping each other on their toes to be the best soft drink manufacturer in the world. Without this rivalry, we wouldn’t have some of the most iconic advertising campaigns that have revolutionized the industry and shaped pop culture as we know it today.

Katelynn Spaid, Social Media Coordinator 

Katelynn Spaid moved to Dublin from Austin, Texas in March 2017 to work as the Social Media Coordinator for Neworld. She received her degree from Texas Tech University in Public Relations and has extensive experience in social media management, content marketing and sales. At Neworld, she has developed an appreciation for branding and its relationship with design effectiveness. She admires the creativity and enthusiasm of her colleagues and is happy to be a part of the show by promoting and celebrating their work.