The Soda Wars
By Stephanie Sprouse
Regardless of whether you drink soda or not, you’ve heard of the long, heated rivalry between Coca-Cola and Pepsi. It has been going on for over a century and while I personally can’t tell the difference between Coke, Pepsi, and the sketchy off-brand simply labeled “cola,” a lot of people will defend their favorite religiously. Coke and Pepsi grew up together, Pepsi being the little brother who always seemed to live in his older brother’s shadow, but both companies took on entirely different personalities to appeal to their audience.
Coke came first, but not by much. The first Coca-Cola logo came shortly after its creation and has barely changed since the 19th century. The ads focused on bringing friends and family together over a Coke (I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company…). The overall feeling Coca-Cola promoted was that of tradition, family, and comfort. I would imagine the company to be like that wise, old, light-hearted grandpa that always brought joy to the household.
Pepsi, on the other hand, was the teenager wearing sunglasses and blasting music. It always strived to appeal to the next generation. The company changed their logo many times, often dramatically, in an attempt to stay current and attract a younger demographic. Trying to stay “hip” and “cool” kept Pepsi and Coke in stiff competition.
So what happened? Pepsi kept changing while Coca-Cola held to its original concept. You’d think one would have failed – one technique had to be wrong. Surprisingly enough, both companies tried the other approach. Coke brought out “new Coke” with a new look and taste to try to keep the company fresh. But it failed. Miserably. Thousands of calls a day came from people complaining – they wanted their old Coca-Cola back! However, Pepsi’s attempt to stick to tradition resulted in multiple near-bankruptcies, forcing them to keep changing their look and approach. They even changed their formula…and no one complained.
So, how is this soda war important to marketing? Coca-Cola and Pepsi are prime examples that one approach does not fit all. Knowing your audience and positioning your brand appropriately have a HUGE impact on what will work best for your company. And believe me, people will let you know if you’re not doing it right.
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