Cola Wars–Whose Side Are You On? Who Is Winning?

By Matthew Quint
Director, Center on Global Brand Leadership
Member, Board of Directors

We all know about “the cola wars.” There aren’t many pairs of brands that dominate the marketplace and create such robust advertising that they have their own Wikipedia page, but the battle between Coke and Pepsi does.

Both brands, Coke and Pepsi (“hey, that should be Pepsi and Coke!”), have pushed themselves into the public sphere as icons of culture and emotion in ways few brands ever have. Prof. Bernd Schmitt of Columbia Business School and I were delighted to work with Vanity Fair to analyze 50 years of advertising campaigns between the two brands.

Cola Wars Positioning

In looking back over that time, it was interesting to be reminded that the sense of Coke as a “happiness” and “all generations” brand compared to Pepsi as an “energy” and “youth” brand didn’t always exist. For example, the performers in “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” look like college kids headed to the Peace Corp.

Looking through this brand battle, provides a reminder that some of the buzz words of marketing, like differentiation and consistency, are often based on the smallest of nuances and associations built outside of the direct experience of a product or service. As Schmitt notes in the video, “What is absolutely amazing is that you have something like sugar water, basically, with a secret formula, and it’s being stylized into grand battles of values and ideals and how a society should be governed, and it’s all in there in the advertising.”

What do you think?

Are the cola wars over? If so who won? Why is that so? What was gained? What was lost? Let us know!

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