Advertising Strategies and Lessons


The Cola Wars – Which Brand Dominates?

November 4, 2019 Digital Media Solutions

Whether it’s Nike and Adidas, Dunkin’ and Starbucks, or Apple and Samsung, there is something enigmatic about great rivalries. But only a fraction of the rivalries are considered true duopolies — perhaps Coca-Cola and Pepsi being the most iconic of all after a century-long battle. What makes the Coca-Cola and Pepsi rivalry so interesting is that their original products are almost functionally identical. Both of their beverages are brown, sweetened, carbonated soft drinks that do not have drastic differences in taste. Over the years, Coca-Cola and Pepsi duked it out via the Cola Wars, each striving to become the ultimate champion in the soft drink industry, while hoping to build trust and brand loyalty.

Sweeter Drinks Are Not Necessarily Always Better

Let your taste decide. Take the Pepsi challenge! Image from abcbnews.go

The Cola Wars really heated up back in 1975, when Pepsi launched a campaign called the Pepsi Challenge to see if individuals preferred the taste of Pepsi over Coca-Cola. As a side-by-side blind test between the two brands, consumers out in public places were given two unlabeled cups of cola, one Coca-Cola and one Pepsi. The majority preferred Pepsi in the blind test, and since Pepsi was sweeter than Coca-Cola, the logical thing for Coca-Cola to do was come out with a sweet drink: “New Coke.” Shortly after the release of New Coke, Coca-Cola removed their original formula, and it backfired, to say the least. The public was less than thrilled about this change, and Coca-Cola returned to their original formula. Ironically, the frenzy reminded many consumers of the place Coca-Cola had in their hearts. And so, the battle to find the real winner continued, and still continues to this day.

Coca-Cola And Pepsi Think Outside The Can With Their Ads

Coca-Cola focuses on triggering emotional responses, a sense of belonging and loyalty in the hearts and minds of consumers. Some of their most popular campaigns include, “Share a Coke — Share a feeling,” “Open Happiness,” “Taste the Feeling” and “Hug Me.” The themes of tradition, friendship, happiness and kindness have become key targets that Coca-Cola hits, simply promoting their audience to drink Coke and just have fun.

While Coca-Cola aims to create warm and fuzzy associations, Pepsi attempts to showcase how their brand is up-to-date, fresh and youthful. Since the 1980s, Pepsi has used slogans to seize the moment, the youth and the future.

  • 1983 – “Pepsi Now!”
  • 1984 – “The Choice of a New Generation”
  • 1997 – “Generation Next”
  • 2012 – “Live For Now”

In order to reach newer and more youthful generations, Pepsi has had a rich history in celebrity endorsements that includes professional athletes and pop stars. In 1983, Pepsi collaborated with the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson. In the commercial, MJ sang to the tune of “Bille Jean” with the lyrics “You’re the Pepsi generation/Guzzle down and taste the thrill of the day/And feel the Pepsi way.” With MJ’s music, videos, singing and dancing, he was innovative and contemporary, all of which were the perfect choice for the new generation. Since then, Pepsi has partnered with many celebrities including, David Beckham, Madonna, Britney Spears, Beyoncé and Kendall Jenner.

Coca-Cola And Pepsi Aim To Reach The Masses Through Sporting Events

BTS Voting Team and Cardi B Twitter posts promoting Pepsi

Sports has been a common denominator for both soda brands to engage with mass audiences. Coca-Cola, the red defender, in a long-term relationship with FIFA, has had a sponsor history with the World Cup lasting since 1978. Pepsi, the blue contender, has been linked to the NFL since 2002. BTS, a South Korean boy band became Coca-Cola’s brand ambassador, and the big reveal was announced just days before the 2018 World Cup. With more than 615,000 mentions on various social media platforms, BTS generated the biggest social media buzz of the year for Coca-Cola. Meanwhile, Cardi B’s 2019 Super Bowl ad for Pepsi also generated massive social media impact, with more than 71,000 mentions. However, in the U.S. alone, Pepsi generated 4 million mentions compared to Coca-Cola’s 3.7 million mentions. Even with a lower level of single mentions, Coca-Cola was able to prompt more shares and likes with its marketing efforts. The company’s strategy to invest both in an international sports event and a boy band created more buzz in the States than the one-day-hit Super Bowl for Pepsi.

Coca-Cola And Pepsi Strive To Win The Crowd’s Favor

With Coca-Cola and Pepsi dominating the soda industry, the brands have been going head-to-head with each other for many years to see who would ultimately come out on top. By using omnichannel marketing strategies including sponsorships, celebrity advertising and even a blind taste test, Coca-Cola and Pepsi strived to differentiate themselves from one another. Whether an individual prefers Coca-Cola or Pepsi, their loyalty and connection to the brand is significant as it can equate to long-term, sustainable sales opportunities.  

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About the Author

Digital Media Solutions

Digital Media Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: DMS) is a leading provider of technology-enabled digital performance advertising solutions connecting consumers and advertisers within auto, home, health and life insurance plus a long list of top consumer verticals. The DMS first-party data asset, proprietary advertising technology, significant proprietary media distribution and data-driven processes help digital advertising clients de-risk their advertising spend while scaling their customer bases. Learn more at

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