Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola: The Advertising Battle
published on 08.04.22
We are big fans of creativity. Finding little-known paths that take brands into uncharted territory is a rarity, but that is what happened (and still happens) with the comparative advertising of the two best-known soft drink brands.
Tracing Back to the Origins: Cocal-Cola and Pepsi
Coca-Cola and Pepsi were created at almost the same time in the late 19th century (only 7 years apart). Moreover, both were developed from the formulas of two pharmacists: John S. Pemberton came up with Coca-Cola, while Caled Bradham was responsible for Pepsi.
The Evolution of Brand Names
They were not intended to be soft drinks, however. Pemberton’s initial idea was to create Coca-Cola as a digestive medicine, while Bradham intended for Pepsi to become a coffee substitute. As for their names, Coca-Cola has always been Coca-Cola (except for the Coke period in the mid-1980s), but the same cannot be said for Pepsi. First it was called Brad’s Drink, which was later changed to Pep Kola and then finally Pepsi, due to the role of the digestive enzyme pepsin in its formulation.
From a sales point of view, as a brand, Pepsi was never on an equal footing with Coca-Cola. Once Bradham was ready to sell Pepsi on a massive scale, Pemberton’s Coca-Cola was already way out in front. Already perceived by the public as a top-of-mind brand, it had managed to distribute three million liters thanks to its good brand image, powerful name and great packaging: the iconic glass bottle.
The Sales Battlefront
For years, the war waged between the brands was fought through product, distribution and pricing, but never communication.
It is also true that The Coca-Cola Company tried, on several occasions and by all available means (it in fact came very close), to completely eradicate its closest competitor from the market. Its sales force demolished the competition, its distribution channels spanned the globe, and its branding combined with the “It’s the real thing” claim was nothing short of brilliant. 1971 marked a turning point in terms of advertising. Bill Backer, creative director at the McCann Erickson agency, designed the brand’s most iconic advert, associating it with the coming together of different peoples in peace and love. The iconic “Hilltop” spot was a great success (it even appeared in the Mad Men TV show) and nearly wiped out its most direct competitor, which was in the red and failing to reach its objectives.
It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that PepsiCo counterattacked and challenged The Coca-Cola Company. Hundreds of blind tastings were filmed with various consumers who had to choose which of the soft drinks’ flavors they preferred. This challenge – which was repeated for a number of years all over the world, with the results always making Pepsi the winner – marked the beginning of the advertising rivalry between the two brands.
This ongoing advertising, or comparative advertising, battle has given us fantastic creative pieces that we continue to enjoy year after year. While Coca-Cola is happiness, Pepsi represents the new generation (a BBDO agency tagline). In terms of advertising, Pepsi has been the undisputed winner for years. It was the brand that had to risk the most, with pieces that are absolutely fantastic even today. There are so many of them, but we wanted to select and revisit just five.
Pepsi, a globally recognized brand, has often utilized the image of vending machines in its advertisements to connect with its audience on a personal, everyday level. These ads capture moments of spontaneity, joy, and connection, resonating deeply with the brand’s ethos.
Pepsi’s advertising campaigns often delve into narratives that tap into pop culture themes, and the “Mafia Girl” advertisement is no exception. Marrying the allure of crime dramas with Pepsi’s quintessential flair, this ad captivates viewers by blending tension with refreshing relief.
Pepsi, ever in touch with the heartbeat of everyday heroes, crafted a campaign that shines a spotlight on the unsung champions of the highways: truck drivers.
4. Stunt Fight
Pepsi’s innovative advertising approach knows no bounds, and with the “Stunt Fight” campaign, the brand ventures into the thrilling world of action cinema
Delving into the world of ancient mysteries and historical wonders, Pepsi’s “Archaeology” campaign is a masterful blend of the past and the present.
Author: Joan Margarit, Marketing and Communication Analyst
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