The rivalry between two of the world’s most well-known brands is possibly unrivalled in the world today. If you haven’t seen the documentary called the Cola Wars, please do, as it helps set the foundations for the battle now raging in the digital space.

The twists and turns of this battle had many pivotal moments in history but none more so than when Coca Cola was shaken to its core by the Pepsi challenge. When Pepsi launched the Pepsi challenge, a simple taste test of a single mouthful of Coca Cola and Pepsi, Pepsi overwhelmingly came out on top.

Why? It is relatively straightforward; Pepsi is sweeter, so each person chose the sweeter option as the one having more taste in a single shot.

But to confound the situation, the Coca Cola board panicked and changed its recipe launching one of the biggest marketing failures of all time; New Coke! Coca Cola fans were outraged and began protesting the factories, so Coca Cola, realising their colossus mistake, withdrew New Coke and returned to the tried, tested, and very much loved original recipe.

But the damage was done, and Pepsi market share rose to where they pretty much sit today like two heavyweight boxers slugging it out in an endless fight that benefits both brands.

This kind of competitive marketing battle shapes audiences into three camps. You have die-hard fans of both Coca Cola and Pepsi, whilst the battle rages for those who either don’t care, don’t mind or don’t drink, or will switch between the brands.

Different Audiences
What most people don’t understand is that Coca Cola and Pepsi target different audiences in their marketing.

Although you will find people drinking either brand from teenager to grave, they focus on a specific key target audience. Coca Cola focuses on the 20 – 30-year-olds who are more settled and believe in things like family, friendship, and heritage and have gone through their turbulent teen years. Hence, the brand is consistent and stable with its branding.

On the other hand, Pepsi is about the new, the now, and use current celebrity endorsements to push the ever-changing world of teenagers up to 20. Pepsi is more likely to rebrand to fit with what is happening right now as they know their audience is heavily influenced by the changing worlds of art, music, and culture.

But time moves on, and it moves quickly in the digital space.
This epic battle between Pepsi and Coca-Cola continues to capture global audiences and doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon. In fact, with the demand for content within the social media space, expect things to escalate!

Try to think of this as two heavyweight champions dropping to bantamweight, which means they are quicker, throwing many more punches than before, are more agile but still can land some power-ful blows against each other. And that is why this battle is so exciting!

Coca Cola personalised the experience and won big!
The share a coke campaign which launched with the hashtag #cokemyname was a staggering suc-cess. Tapping into the latest print on demand technology, Coca Cola could print peoples names on the famous red and white can.

Even those who don’t drink coke wanted a can with their name on it! Sharing the drink was one thing, but the volume of shares through social media went nuclear! But they didn’t stop there.

The Coca Cola Happiness machine
Following the share a coke success with the Coca Cola happiness machine. Despite the boring name, this digital marketing campaign was very successful. This Coca-Cola vending machine dishes out drinks, pizza, flowers and sandwiches.

What is remarkable about this machine is that some machines require a specific action to earn your rewards, like the one in Singapore that needs a hug or the one in Belgium where you have to dance to get your reward. These engaging experiences were shared online, and this is where great market-ing comes into play.

The idea that the audience will share, distribute, and champion a brand or brands activity is the most significant change from traditional campaigns used to influence their audiences. If an audience is sharing content about the brand, the reach is more effective; it is more likely to be received by their micro audiences and develop into viral sensations.

King of the recycle
A fantastic use of Facebook places in Israel was the ‘King of the recycle” campaign positioned 10,000 recycling bins in locations all over the country. People had to check-in when they recycled plastic bottles, and at the end of the campaign, each area had a recycling king announced and re-warded. The campaign was a huge success and helped people know where the recycling stations were and showed Coca Cola as the brand now associated with them.

Tweet your Christmas wish
For the festive season in 2011, Coca-Cola made people feel incredibly special when they gave them a chance to have their tweets displayed on its enormous neon sign in Piccadilly Circus, London, UK. People were requested to send their messages through the Coke zone, and they were then able to see it live on the billboard.

Super Bowl 2012
Another digital marketing campaign from Coca-Cola in 2012 was the Super Bowl campaign that involved two polar bears who reacted to events on the field in real-time. People were able to interact with the polar bears. This was done via Facebook and Twitter, and when the bears responded, they pulled out a smartphone to tweet.

The friendship experiment
In China, people were asked to participate in Coca-Cola’s digital marketing campaign called the ‘Friendship experiment’. The photographer they used was Kurt Tang, who asked people to take part in a moment of the connection while touring Guangzhou.

The campaign drew great interest as Kurt approached individuals an couples in a park where he asked them to share a candid moment and a coke with strangers. His images sparked a movement across social media and were hailed as a success in bringing people together.

Digital media advertising campaign
For two weeks, Coca-Cola ran a digital forecourt screen advertising campaign to lift sales of the 500ml Coca-Cola and Coke Zero. This 10-second ad motivated people to visit their site,, to ‘win millions of happy prizes instantly’. Coca-Cola, of course, used the 500ml Coca-Cola and Coke Zero bottles on the ad.

Things don’t always go to plan…
Pepsi’s advert featuring Kendall Jenner

Pepsi faced a considerable backlash to an advert featuring Kendall Jenner saw her giving police a can of Pepsi on the front line of a protest.

The advert was meant to portray a message of peace, unity and understanding but instead was criti-cised for trivialising social justice demonstrations.

In the advert, Kendall gives a police officer a can of Pepsi; he then smiles at a fellow officer as pro-testors cheered.

The backlash from the advert suggested that if protestors were kinder and gave police a drink, there would be no need for social justice demonstrations.

The public mocked the campaign with key influencers like Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr’s daughter, tweeting a picture of her father with the caption: If only Daddy had known the power of #Pepsi.

This may have been a battle lost by Pepsi, but things don’t stand still for long in the cola wars. And Pepsi has also had some huge successes by thinking outside the can.

How Pepsi broke the mould
In 2009, Pepsi decided to axe their Super Bowl ad campaign for Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, Flor-ida. Instead, they are dumping 20 million dollars into a Social Media Marketing campaign. Pepsi’s move exemplifies the major shift in advertising dollars that we have seen develop over the past year.

As corporations large and small continue to pull advertising dollars from traditional markets like tel-evision, newspaper, and print, we see these funds relocated to online campaigns that engage cus-tomers and allow for advanced statistical tracking.

This marks the first year in 23 years that Pepsi did not develop an ad for the Super Bowl. Pepsi should be commended for a move that most marketers wouldn’t dream of stepping away from as the risk was huge. As the world had come to expect a TV commercial during the Superbowl, Pepsi’s move showed it was in touch with the changing face of business, culture and digital marketing.

Pepsi Refresh Project
“Pepsi is giving away millions each month to fund great ideas.”
Pepsi allowed businesses, people, and non-profits to submit their ideas that they believe had a posi-tive impact. One thousand ideas were accepted every month. Anyone could submit an idea, and the community were asked to vote, which again was another masterstroke for the campaign.

People were allowed to vote for ten ideas per day, and voting closed at the end of the month. For example, 1000 ideas had been submitted for February; voting for these ideas began on Feb. 1, with the winner being chosen by the end of February.

The prizes were as follows:

  • $5,000 for up to 10 awardees per month. This is best for individuals.
  • $25,000 for up to 10 awardees per month. For individuals and small groups.
  • $50,000 for up to 10 awardees per month. For companies and organisations.
  • $250,000 for up to 2 awardees per month. This is for large organisations.

There were six categories to submit to; Health, Arts & Culture, Food & Shelter, The Planet, Neigh-bourhoods, and Education.

Pepsi has a continuously young and edgy vibe about all its communication, which is visible online. Celebrity endorsements, bold street style graphics and heavy use of the latest music trends keep Pepsi a favourite for the younger generation. Each of the social media accounts, for which the Pepsi brand has many deliver this attitude with aplomb.

Coca Cola’s steadfast community empowerment “Open Happiness” style, which has a far greater appeal to an older generation, shows the difference in how each brand targets its audience.

The most exciting thing about the war for attention both Coca Cola and Pepsi find themselves in is that they wouldn’t draw as much attention without the competition. Due to the contest and, more importantly, how the fans of each defend, promote and champion each brand make everything they do so enjoyable to watch.