When it comes to cutthroat brand wars, the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo are first in line. The long-time rivalry between these two soft-drink producers, particularly regarding their flagship drinks Coca-Cola and Pepsi, has been given a name of its own: the Cola Wars.
The two brands share an interesting and inter-connected history. Both of them can trace their origins to the late 1800s. Coca-Cola was invented by John Stith Pemberton, a pharmacist from Georgia. Pepsi was also invented by a pharmacist called Caleb Bradham as his own sugar drink in 1893. Five years later, he changed the name of the soda to “Pepsi-Cola” and founded his company in 1902.
For many decades, Coca-Cola held the position of #1 soft drink. Pepsi, on the other hand, went through multiple reorganisations and struggled financially. Nevertheless, the two soft-drinks managed to exist side-by-side.
All of this changed in 1975, when Pepsi launched its first direct challenge at its rival. This would spark a decades-long competition known as the “Cola Wars”
The “Pepsi Challenge” was the unofficial beginning of the Cola Wars. In 1975, Pepsi came up with a bold new strategy where they went inside malls around the country, inviting people to do a blind taste test between Pepsi and Coke. Extraordinarily, a significant majority of people picked Pepsi over Coke, and Pepsi flaunted these results in a TV campaign.
Unfortunately, Coca-Cola shot themselves in the foot. They issued several denials and press releases questioning these results, which was a disaster: their customers believed they were paranoid and guilty, and everyone believed a market share plunge was on its way.
COCA-COLA’S BRAND-NEW PRODUCTS:
In order to get back on their feet, Coca-Cola needed a new plan. They began launching several new products: Diet Coke in 1982, and caffeine-free versions of Coke and Diet Coke in 1983.
However, Coca-Cola continued their pattern of self-sabotage. In 1985, they launched “New Coke”, with a sweeter flavour that was suspiciously reminiscent of Pepsi’s classic soft drink. If you can’t beat them, you can become them, right?
Wrong. This turned out to be a catastrophic blunder – Coca-Cola’s consumers were furious about the change, and at least 400,000 people wrote letters to the company demanding that they change it back.
Pepsi, meanwhile, took full advantage of the “New Coke” backlash. They released a commercial showing a young girl criticising the brand before trying a classic Pepsi and loving it. After all, Pepsi was “the choice of a new generation”.
Coca-Cola’s strategy had flopped so badly that just three months after the launch of “New Coke”, they announced that they were relaunching their original soda as “Cola-Coca Classic”.
COCA-COLA COMES OUT ON TOP:
Strangely, Coca-Cola’s temporary loss turned into a resounding victory. Their customers became exceedingly enthusiastic about the return of their “Coca-Cola Classic” and, as a result, began to buy more Coke. This response was both unexpected and fantastic, and Coca-Cola has continued to capitalise on the hype ever since then.
SUPER BOWL LIII:
In 2019, Super Bowl LIII was played in Atlanta, where Coca-Cola has its head office. Pepsi, a huge sponsor of the NFL, made fun of the situation with clever slogans such as “Hey, Atlanta, Thanks for Hosting. We’ll Bring The Drinks” and “Pepsi in Atlanta. How Refreshing”. During the Super Bowl, both the companies ran television advertisements with catchy slogans.
THE “WINNER” OF THE COLA WARS
Despite Pepsi’s increasingly desperate marketing campaigns, Coca-Cola has continued to consistently top Pepsi’s sales for years. However, the two classic sodas were always No. 1 and No. 2 in the market respectively. All of this changed in 2010, where Coca-Cola’s “Diet Coke” sales surpassed Pepsi’s sales for the very first time.
This astonished the market. By claiming the top two rankings of soft drinks, Coca-Cola won a historic triumph in the Cola Wars. This led to the Wall Street Journal’s headline claiming that “Diet Coke Wins Battle in Cola Wars.”
That being said, apart from their classic sodas, it’s difficult to directly compare the two brands. Coca-Cola is a primarily beverage brand while Pepsi has diversified with a large snack food business. Pepsi also primarily operates in the US, while Coca-Cola is the largest beverage company in the world. Nevertheless, the rivalry between the two brands will be sure to generate some extremely entertaining marketing campaigns and advertisements in the future. After all, there’s never a dull moment in the Cola Wars.