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.
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. 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.
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.
4. Stunt Fight
Author: Joan Margarit, Marketing and Communication Analyst