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The cola wars refer to the long-time rivalry between soft drink producers The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, who have engaged in mutually-targeted marketing campaigns for the direct competition between each company's product lines, especially their flagship colas, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Beginning in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, the competition escalated, which gave this cultural phenomenon its current moniker of cola wars.
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Coca-Cola advertising has historically focused on wholesomeness and nostalgia. Coca-Cola advertising is often characterized as "family-friendly" and often relies on "cute" characters (e.g., the Coca-Cola polar bear mascot and Santa Claus around Christmas).
During the peak of the cola wars, as Coca-Cola saw its flagship product losing market share to Pepsi as well as to Diet Coke and its competitors' products, the company considered a change to the beverage's formula and flavor. In April 1985, The Coca-Cola Company introduced its new formula for Coca-Cola, which became popularly known as "New Coke". Consumer backlash to the change led to the company making a strategic retreat on July 11, 1985, announcing its plans to bring back the previous formula under the name "Coca-Cola Classic". Some conspiracy theorists think the decision to replace the original flavor was actually a strategic masterstroke to bolster Coke sales once it came back on the market, which it did; however, the Coca-Cola Company vehemently denies the claim.
Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff
In the mid-1990s, Pepsi launched its most successful long-term strategy of the Cola Wars, Pepsi Stuff. Using the slogan "Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff", consumers could collect Pepsi Points on packages and cups which could be redeemed for free Pepsi merchandise. After researching and testing the program for over two years to ensure that it resonated with consumers, Pepsi launched Pepsi Stuff, which was an instant success. Due to its success, the program was expanded to include Mountain Dew and Pepsi's international markets worldwide. The company continued to run the program for many years, continually innovating with new features each year.
The Pepsi Stuff promotion became the subject of a lawsuit. In one of the many commercials, Pepsi showed a young man in the cockpit of a Harrier Jump Jet. Below ran the caption "Harrier Jet: 7 million Pepsi Points". There was a mechanism for buying additional Pepsi Points to complete a Pepsi Stuff order. John Leonard, of Seattle, Washington, sent in a Pepsi Stuff request with the maximum number of points and a check for over $700,000 USD to make up for the extra points he needed. Pepsi did not accept the request and Leonard filed suit. The judgment was that a reasonable person viewing the commercial would realize that Pepsi was not, in fact, offering a Harrier Jet. In response to the suit, Pepsi added the words, "Just Kidding", under the portion of the commercial featuring the jet as well as changed the "price" to 700 million Pepsi points (see Leonard v. Pepsico, Inc.).
Coca-Cola and Pepsi engaged in a competition of online programs with the re-introduction of Pepsi Stuff in 2005; Coca-Cola retaliated with Coke Rewards. Both are loyalty programs that give away prizes and product to consumers who, after collecting bottle caps and 12- or 24-pack box tops, then submitted codes online for a certain number of points. However, Pepsi's online partnership with Amazon allowed consumers to buy various products with their "Pepsi Points", such as mp3 downloads. Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi previously had a partnership with the iTunes Store.
Super Bowl LIII was played in Atlanta, which is where Coca-Cola has its head office. Pepsi has been a major sponsor of the NFL for years, most recently renewing its sponsorship deal in 2011. Pepsi advertising tied to the game poked fun at the situation with slogans such as "Pepsi in Atlanta. How Refreshing", "Hey Atlanta, Thanks For Hosting. We'll Bring The Drinks", and "Look Who's in Town for Super Bowl LIII". Both companies ran television ads during the Super Bowl, as Coca-Cola aired the commercial "A Coke is a Coke" just before the Super Bowl's National Anthem, while Pepsi ran a series of ads with the tagline "Is Pepsi OK?".
Comparison of products
Many of the brands available from the three largest soda producers, The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and Keurig Dr Pepper, are intended as direct, equivalent competitors. The following chart lists these competitors by type or flavor of drink.
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- "Pop Go the Points". Archived from the original on 2008-03-21.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
- Delaney Strunk. "The biggest rivalry in Atlanta on Super Bowl weekend has nothing to do with football". CNN. Retrieved Apr 27, 2019.
- "Brands". The Coca-Cola Company. Retrieved 2013-08-18.
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