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Coke vs Pepsi: Marketing strategies

Coke vs Pepsi: Marketing strategies

After living through a pandemic, consumers are acutely aware of their health and wellbeing. While they still want flavor, limiting sugar intake and natural ingredients are top priorities. To align with this demand, brands are shifting their products and marketing strategies. This post looks at Coke vs Pepsi - tone of voice, campaigns, social media, World Cup vs Super Bowl…

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With brands under constant pressure to increase brand recognition and raise awareness, let’s take a look at Coca-Cola and Pepsi’s marketing strategies.

Table of contents

Coke vs Pepsi | Battling CPG brands

When COVID-19 struck in 2020, the global economy experienced the most severe decline since the Great Depression.

Lockdown closed - amongst other things - bars, restaurants, and venues, and with Coca-Cola as the undisputed winner with regard to big-name restaurant contracts - McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, etc. - the brand took the hit and sales dropped. That’s not to say that Pepsi didn’t feel it too.

In 2019, Coca-Cola led the brand valuation game, ranking number 6 compared to 29 for Pepsi on Forbes World’s Most Valuable brands. Jumping to 2021, and Coke’s slipped to 16 out of the top 100, with a no-show from Pepsi.

Despite this drop in ranking, Coca-Cola remains the leading carbonated soft drink - CSD - brand in the US - volume share 44.9%. Pepsi comes in second, with a volume share of 25.9%.

Coke vs Pepsi | The Cola Wars

Invented within a decade of each other, Coca-Cola was always the more popular drink. While the brands peacefully co-existed for years, the Pepsi Challenge in 1975 rocked the taste buds.

Yep, the Pepsi Challenge morphed over time.
Give me a break, Twitter wasn’t around in 1975.

Considered by some to be a marketing ploy, the Pepsi Challenge was originally a blind taste test. Big news, it revealed consumers preferred the taste of Pepsi over Coca-Cola. Coke's shining star dulled and it's market share declined.

Say hi to Diet Coke and caffeine-free Coke!

Consumers welcomed the diet and caffeine-free versions, but when Coca-Cola launched New Coke, in direct competition with Pepsi - changing the taste of the original - consumers rejected it out of hand.

Three months later, Coke returned to its classic recipe. Disaster averted, and with people so pleased/relieved to get the classic back, Coca-Cola continued to beat Pepsi's yearly sales.

You might want to consider a consumer insights strategy, to avoid pushing your product in the wrong direction.

Coke vs Pepsi | Social media

Social media is a key channel for both brands in order to convey their brand content to the young and thirsty crowd.

Both brands invest heavily in teen music bands and celebrity endorsement. This dual strategy seems to pay off as the younger generation likes to follow and comment on their pop idols online. Coca-Cola boasts 109 million fans on Facebook, compared to 37 million for Pepsi.

A look at both the global and North America share of voice in terms of social media engagement shows two different pictures.

From a global perspective

Coke vs Pepsi World Social Media Share of Voice 2018 2019

Global level 2018 - Coca-Cola led the year-long share of voice - SOV - battle on social media
with the help of strong celebrity endorsement and the World Cup.

Before the World Cup 2018 kicked off, Coca-Cola announced a new brand ambassador. BTS, a South Korean boy band, nabbed the gig, and the news generated the biggest social media buzz of the year, with more than 615,000 mentions.

Meanwhile, South Korean boy band YDPP’s mash-up with Pepsi in early 2018, and Cardi B’s Super Bowl 2019 ad generated massive social media impact for Pepsi.

On a global level, Coca-Cola generated 12.2 million brand mentions and 117.2 million engagements from Feb 2018 to Feb 2019. While Pepsi generated 7.8 million brand mentions and 75.2 million engagements.

Surprised?

The World Cup and BTS speak to a larger audience than Pepsi’s brand activities.

From a US perspective

Coke vs Pepsi USA Social Media Share of Voice 2018 2019

From a North American perspective, the Super Bowl helped Pepsi win the mentions battle, but Coca-Cola won with all year long stronger engagements.

The impact of the World Cup is way lower in the US, but BTS’s notoriety in the States still led to 262,000 mentions during the launch of the partnership with Coca-Cola.

Pepsi wiped out Coca-Cola’s online presence during the 2019 Super Bowl, with a strong Cardi B advertising reveal, and a Pepsi Halftime show that hit the news due to the Maroon 5 performance, grossing 387,000 mentions for Coca-Cola’s rival.

In the US, Pepsi generated 4 million mentions and 39.8 million engagements Feb 18 to Feb 19, compared to Coca-Cola’s 3.7 million mentions and 59.2 million engagements.

This shows that even with a lower level of single mentions, Coca-Cola generates more shares and likes with its marketing efforts. Proving that the company’s strategy to invest in an international sports event and a pop band creates more buzz in the States than the one-day-hit Super Bowl for Pepsi.

Tough game for Pepsi.

On both global and US levels, music celebrity endorsements are the key social media drivers for both brands, with more impact than any single mass event or product launch.

Both companies follow the same strategy. Hosting major sports events which resonate with all generations, and combining these events with K-Pop or rap musician endorsements to fuel Gen Z’s viral gluttony.

Reporting your social media results is vital for your team, to understand what's working and what isn't. And, so you can present your results to your boss, to prove that your social media strategy is bringing a ROI.

Coke vs Pepsi | Competitor analysis

The period from November 2021 to January 2022 shows that share of voice in the industry went to Coca-Cola, followed by Pepsi. Coke also dominated in most markets, with Pepsi having a larger presence in Asian markets.

Period from November 2021 to January 2022 shows that share of voice in the industry went to Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola wins the global share of voice battle, but Pepsi dominates in Asia.

Coke vs Pepsi | Hitting all generations

We can define both soda brands’ strategy as comparable and defensive, with a clear focus on the US for Pepsi, and an international approach for Coca-Cola.

They both buy category exclusivity in the World Cup and Super Bowl events, not only to convey a brand message to the masses but also for prestige reasons. Neither prepared to sacrifice their prize.

But, there’s one other aspect that’s way more important…

Soccer or football events are brand investments that target customers aged 30+, who have already decided what beverage they prefer. So, one can say that the sports event sponsorships are only a pretext, a costly stage where the battle takes place. The real battle takes place within the 4 to 24-year-old Generation Z, the social media savvy, whose taste is not yet that acquired.

Key for Generation Z brand bonding. K-Pop boy band BTS members showcasing Coca-Cola bottles.

K-Pop brand endorsement is gold. Emotional content that enchants the crowd. Coca-Cola’s BTS partnership, leveraged throughout the World Cup 2018, is key to its global marketing plan.

Pepsi won’t get the same brand drive with less-known boy bands or younger stars playing at an event that still predominantly fascinates the US.

Pepsi’s endorsement by rapper Cardi B led to a great viral buzz during 2019’s Super Bowl, but less efficiently than a year before.

Pepsi’s Super Bowl 2019 ad sneak-preview tweeted by Cardi B created strong momentum for the brand.

Coke vs Pepsi | Health and sustainability

Conversation Clusters and theme clouds will identify the overarching themes around an industry or topic, and help you understand what's top of mind for consumers. You'll also be able to find emerging trends.

You may find our food industry trends report - Twitter Birdseye Report - a useful read.

Conversation Clusters around health and sustainability

Conversation Clusters - Jan 2022
Health concerns and fitness dominate topics.

Health concerns and fitness dominate consumer conversations in the soda industry. With underlying topics covering the environment, society, and culture.

Soda industry themes and brands - Coke vs Pepsi

Soda industry - themes and top brands.

The desire for a healthy lifestyle theme is key to product attributes, with ingredients like sugar, being the most discussed topic.

Positive sentiment was dominated by flavor. With product packaging conversations around sustainability and the dislike of non-recyclable plastic.

Share of product attributes and sentiment - Coke vs Pepsi

Positive sentiment for flavor, followed by sustainability.

The desire for a healthy lifestyle theme is key to product attributes, with ingredients like sugar, being the most discussed topic.

Positive sentiment was dominated by flavor. With product packaging conversations around sustainability and the dislike of non-recyclable plastic.

Coke vs Pepsi | Tone of voice

Competing brands have to maintain a unique brand identity, meaning that Coca-Cola and Pepsi each have their own distinct tone of voice and language.

Coca-Cola

Like an over-excited puppy, Coca-Cola is happy, chatty, and fun.

Big on community and togetherness, the brand talks to its audience as if "we're all in this together."

Along with having to adapt to the pandemic, brands also had to consider how/if they were going to recognize social justice issues that arose, such as Black Lives Matter. Pepsi, while not ignoring, took a step back, compared to Coca-Cola.

Of course, Coca-Cola shares promotional content, but it wears its heart on its sleeve. It supports and donates regularly.

Coca-Cola's social media strategy is all about community fun and support.

Pepsi

Pepsi is big on promotional content on social media. Posting contests, promo offers, event sponsorship, partnerships, etc.

Sponsorship of the sponsored Super Bowl halftime show features gets a big push.

Pushing its product as a beverage to accompany food, the brand regularly posts recipes.

To balance the promotional tone of voice, Pepsi uses chatty words to sound more human and engage with its audience - hey, oh, yeah…

In its goal to stand out from Coca-Cola, Pepsi has created a brand persona that - not in a negative way - is a bit more grown up.

Coke vs Pepsi | Visual analytics

Using image recognition, between Nov 21 and Jan 22, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are the most prevalent logos in the industry.

Using image recognition, between Nov 21 and Jan 22, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are the most prevalent logos in the industry.

Image recognition allows brands to identify their logo regardless of text mentions in posts,
while scenes and objects provide more context to the analysis.

Coke vs Pepsi | Hashtag face off

Pepsi’s $5 million halftime investment had a positive return as the #PepsiHalftime hashtag grossed 162,000 mentions, #Pepsi 14,200 mentions, and #PepsiMoreThanOK 51,100 mentions during the 2019 Super Bowl. The result... 227,300 branded mentions.

#PepsiHalftime won the branded hashtag battle during the 2019 Super Bowl.

#PepsiHalftime won the branded hashtag battle during the 2019 Super Bowl.

Coca Cola’s global investment showed less direct measurable impact in terms of branded hashtag efficiency, as most fans focused on tagging BTS during the game. #CocaCola got 43,400 mentions and #BTSxCocaCola 14,800 mentions. Their content hashtag #TrophyTour had a minor impact, showing that it was too difficult to decipher for the masses.

Hashtags mentioning BTS were predominant during the 2018 World Cup, stronger than Coca-Cola branded hashtags.

Hashtags mentioning BTS were predominant during the 2018 World Cup, stronger than Coca-Cola branded hashtags.

Pepsi vs Pepsi | 2018 vs 2019

Pepsi had a bigger impact with branded mentions during the 2018 Super Bowl, compared with the 2019 event.

Pepsi had a bigger impact with branded mentions during the 2018 Super Bowl, compared with the 2019 event.

The viral impact of the 2018 Super Bowl event was almost twice as strong as the 2019 event. In 2018, Justin Timberlake’s performance peaked with 414,000 mentions worldwide, while Cardi B’s ad delivered 211,000 mentions.

These results show that Pepsi got less ROI on social media in 2019 compared to 2018. With a similar budget, the social media outcome can be very different, as other factors, political, cultural or competitive, can have a massive impact on a brand’s voice on the internet.

World Cup vs Super Bowl

Yep, I know, out of date. But, due to the fact that the World Cup happens every four years, and the next is at the end of 2022, looking at the soda brands’ sponsorship of the two events in 2018 makes for a better A/B comparison.

Coca-Cola has a long-standing relationship with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association - FIFA - and has a sponsor history with the World Cup dating back to 1978. While Pepsi has been linked to the NFL since 2002.

According to available data, the 2018 World Cup’s first week generated 459 million posts, likes, and comments on Facebook, compared to 2018’s Super Bowl which generated 185 million interactions.

Coca-Cola knows how to get their money’s worth. The brand generated 766,000 cumulated brand mentions and 11.1 million engagements directly linked to the brand and the 2018 World Cup, for a total engagement ROI of 0.18 EN/$.

PepsiCo’s NFL 20-year brand partnership costs them an estimated $90M per year in fees, including all their brands. Approximately 25% flows to the flagship brand Pepsi - $22.5 million - with 50% of this sum to the Super Bowl buzz. Ending with a yearly $11.25M cost-share for the Pepsi brand, only assigned to the Super Bowl.

Add the 30-second Pepsi ad broadcasting cost of 5.25M - 2019 figures. Finally, the budget to exclusively sponsor the halftime show is around $5M. This would result in an estimated net Super Bowl investment, without production and celebrity endorsement costs, of $21.7 million for the brand.

The Super Bowl 2019 generated 261,100 mentions and 1.6 million engagements for Pepsi directly linked to the brand and the event, in the 30 days the US media covered the game, for a total engagement ROI of 0.07 EN/$.

Compared to Coke’s investment in the World Cup, Pepsi pays a huge premium to sponsor the Super Bowl in terms of social media return on investment. A heavy price to pay to rival Coca-Cola in the US social media market.

Check out our Super Bowl LVI report, for the latest analysis and insights from the Big Game!

Coke vs Pepsi | Takeaways

  • The key to success for global brands is to bridge the generational gap with a sound 360-degree execution of the marketing plan and a clever combination of both the frame (sports), to catch the older, and the content (music), to catch the younger.

  • If you are a global brand, you may decide to play a tactical national game to defend a strategic market share in a specific country. A global worldwide approach does not always make sense for specific markets.

  • The bigger you are, the more defensive you get. Permanently tracking and understanding what your close competitors are doing and how your customers are reacting is a marketing must.

  • Hashtag strategies need to be straight to the point, and hashtags without brand names can be a risky game for a brand.

  • Celebrity endorsement associated with sports events may pay off for lifestyle brands, but the viral outcome can strongly differ from event to event as other factors may interfere with the brand message. This needs to be tracked properly in order to take corrective measures.

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