Last week Mark Ritson of the Design Bulletin shared an insightful view of the Cola Wars between Coke and Pepsi. Rather than focusing on battle between Coke and Pepsi, Mark rightly illustrates how Pepsi has won the war by successfully diversifying its brand to represent more than just the carbonated beverage category. Coke is still defined by Coca-Cola, with other product lines representing only a fraction of their sales. While Pepsi may continue to take on Coke through entertaining ads like their Jackie Chan Super Bowl spot – Pepsi also owns Tropicana, Aquafina, and Gatorade – as well Quaker and Frito-Lay branded food and snack products. The end result is that their marketing and business strategists are positioning the company far more powerfully than Coke.
Instead of focusing on diversifying like Pepsi, Coke’s reaction seems to be to rise to the defense of it’s beverage lineup – most prominently through the "Make every drop count," an ironically titled promotional site that tries to reposition Coke’s products in light of hydration and refreshment (attributes almost every beverage offers to some degree). The site offers some brilliantly crafted copy that might almost convince you that soda is good for you: If you’re not in the mood for water, it’s okay to reach for something else you enjoy, like tea or a soft drink. Of course water is always the best choice; it’s just not the only one.
As a marketer, I have to appreciate the spin here. Not a mention of obesity, diabetes or high fructose corn syrup in sight. Coke’s site even links to a "credible third party" – The Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness (um, sponsored by Coke by the way). To be clear, I am not suggesting that Pepsi is healthier than Coke. In fact, in allegiance to my alma mater – I actually love Coke. But I still think that both Coke and Pepsi have single handedly contributed more to the obesity epidemic in America than any fast food chain. But Pepsi seems to see a future moving away from carbonation and I could imagine them eventually phasing out Pepsi Cola altogether (once public opinion turns sufficiently against soda as it has over time with cigarettes). For Coke, despite all their saavy marketing and beautiful brand designs – when the global love affair with soda sours, consumption will drop as people see it more as a treat and less as a daily staple in their diet. When that finally happens, the power of the Coca-Cola brand alone will no longer be enough to save them.