Coke Zero vs. Pepsi Max: Which Media Plan Had More Fizz?

Optimedia CEO Antony Young Analyzes the Media Strategies of Two Cola Rivals

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Antony Young
Antony Young

Coke and Pepsi's rivalry is the stuff of legend in the ad business. They vigorously compete for share of voice, share of heart and share of throat. In the case of Coke Zero and Pepsi Max, these beverage giants are chasing a burgeoning market of men who apparently aren't man enough to own up to drinking a soda marked "diet." Coke Zero launched five years ago and commands a healthy lead in sales. Pepsi, however, launched a new positioning over the summer.

Communicating to Gen Y males -- or MenY's (I wonder if I can trademark that) -- who are notoriously light TV viewers and generally difficult to reach presents an interesting challenge. So I was particularly interested to discover how the two famed marketers fared in managing their media programs.

Creative executions

Coke Zero's 'Four S' Strategy

Coke Zero centered its brand media strategy on four key pillars: sports, social media, schools and Spanish language media. The marketer secured prominent advertising placements in and around college basketball, college football and Nascar. To build brand discussion, Coke Zero also implemented several clever social media and college programs. Lastly, Coke Zero shifted just under a fifth of its budget into Hispanic media in 2010.

Television creative took on a decidedly laddish theme. "Do Over," for instance, features several young men coming home from rather embarrassing situations. The narrator asks, "It's 2010, weren't we supposed to have time machines by now?" In a second spot -- "What ever happened to clones?" -- the main character, a young man, is shown in the background playing a video game while his girlfriend complains to him about her day. The narrator asks, "Weren't we supposed to have clones by now?" While the first guy continues with his video game, we see a clone of the young man step out of a doorway, sit next to the young lady and hold her hand attentively. Yet another clone creeps up behind the couch with a sock puppet to make the girlfriend laugh. A third clone descends from the ceiling, guitar in hand, serenading the young lady to sing her troubles away. This all happens while the young man can just get on with his game.

Pepsi Max: Zero Calories, Maximum Taste

Pepsi Max went with a more multimedia plan across television, print and online display to launch its new positioning, "Zero Calories, Maximum Taste." The new creative dropped diet from its messaging and went after Coke Zero with a comparative ad. Pepsi Max's video creative is a takeoff of the 1995 Pepsi Super Bowl spot featuring Pepsi and Coke truck drivers sampling each other's product. A fight breaks out after the Coke Zero driver realizes his actions are being filmed for YouTube, and the spot ends with a plug for the Pepsi Max Facebook page, where fans can discuss the commercial. Pepsi also activated a campaign around its NFL sponsorship for the 2010-11 season. After taking a break from the Super Bowl earlier this year to make way for the Pepsi Refresh Community Project, it announced a return to the 2011 game. Teaming up with Doritos in a co-promotion, Pepsi plans to join the very successful "crash the Super Bowl" competition inviting consumers to create and vote for ads to run in the Super Bowl.

RATINGS

5 stars Outstanding
4 stars Highly effective
3 stars Good
2 stars Disappointing
1 star A disaster

Paid media strategy

Coke Zero 4 stars
Pepsi Max 3 1/2 stars

Coke Zero's paid media plan this year so far has been essentially 99% broadcast. It also focused almost solely on sports programming. Over 70% of its TV commercials ran on CBS, many during coverage of the NCAA basketball March Madness season. Cable represented just 12% of the total budget and was split between TNT and ESPN. Coke Zero with broadcast partner Turner Sports screened the first Nascar race in 3D -- the Coke Zero 400 race in Daytona, which could be viewed in 3D on a 3D TV or computer monitor with matching 3D glasses.

It also made a very significant shift in targeting among the Hispanic market by placing 18% of its total budget on Univision. Last year it did not buy any Spanish Language television

Pepsi Max employed a broader range of media. It put 72% of its media plan into broadcast television, contrasting Coke Zero's 51% in broadcast, 28% in cable and 21% in spot. Pepsi Max's sports buy included auto racing, but its purchase spanned a wider variety of programming to deliver higher reach. Its top two programming genres were reality and comedy.

In print, Pepsi Max ran a series of advertorials in Maxim, including an interview with Harley Davidson heir Bill Davidson, who "tossed back some Pepsi Max" while discussing the 2009 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Maxim's January issue featured an interview with the Philadelphia Flyers' Chris Pronger and Mike Richards about the upcoming Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic game in Fenway Park. When asked about receiving game preparation advice, Richards responds: "Yeah. Dress warm and drink something with a kick. So Pepsi Max is going to be an integral part of my preparation." In conjunction with its comparative TV creative, Pepsi Max also ran print ads proclaiming, "Not all Zeros are Created Equal" in the August and September issues of Maxim and People magazines. Pepsi Max's online display advertising zeroed in on the younger audience in sports and entertainments sites, with a significant portion on its budget on AOL sites.

Owned media strategy

Coke Zero 4 stars

Pepsi Max 3 stars

Both brands' owned media strategy smartly leveraged content on Facebook. Entering www.pepsimax.com into your browser puts you directly to the Pepsi Max Facebook page. The Facebook page has featured posts from the Charlotte, NC racetrack cheering on the driver of the Pepsi Max#24.

Coke Zero Facebook
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Over the weekend of the NCAA Final Four, Coca-Cola Zero live-streamed a show that included various features and a concert headlined by Daughtry and hosted by Ryan Seacrest. This delivered high engagement, with the audience watching an average of 32 minutes. The show and the promotion around this program delivered over 50 million impressions via social media programs such as news feeds from Daughtry and Ryan Seacrest's own fan pages as well as paid advertising.

Helping to amplify the cloning TV ad idea, one of the cool things that Coca-Cola Zero did was to sponsor a facial profiler app on Facebook. The app allowed users to upload photos of themselves and then search for their lookalikes on Facebook. 288,000 people installed the application.

Coca-Cola Zero's home page was at one point devoted entirely to its "Playbook Challenge" game and contest. College football fans could win prizes by making quick decisions about how they would respond to a variety of dilemmas that fans would potentially face at a game. Now the site offers a game tied into the forthcoming "Tron: Legacy" movie.

Earned media strategy

Coke Zero 3 stars

Pepsi Max 4 stars

Coke Zero posted a clever video, available both in 2D and 3D, which was a variation of the Coke Zero & Mentos stunt. It became a popular viral video receiving almost 3 million views in 2D and nearly 560,000 views in 3D so far.

Coke Zero also developed an excellent college advocate program dubbed Coke Zero Agent. It's essentially a recruitment program at major colleges around the country, in which students pitched to be a Coke Zero Agent, a role that involved promoting the brand in their colleges through marketing and social programs on campus.

The Super Bowl is still some three months away, but Pepsi Max kicked off early buzz for its planned promotion with Doritos. It launched the promotion at an event in Los Angeles with Betty White, the breakout star of the 2010 Super Bowl commercials with her spot for Snickers. Pepsi Max and Doritos will run three consumer-generated 30-second spots for each brand with potentially $5 million in prize money up for grabs if the ads score well in the annual ad meter. They distributed a "Crash the Super Bowl" promoted video on YouTube, where Betty White encouraged individuals to visit the main site and find out how to enter their ideas for a Doritos or Pepsi Max commercial.

Summary

Coke Zero 4 stars
Pepsi Max 3 1/2 stars

The two plans were very different. While Coke Zero had the benefit of a bigger budget, it made clear choices about where it wanted to play in what looked like a more deliberate and distinct strategy. It made a clear decision with their television plan to single-mindedly chase the young male audience through sports programming events. Its substantial investment in Hispanic media gave the brand one edge over Pepsi Max. It also intelligently employed branded content online.

Pepsi Max's plan had a more traditional media flavor to it, delivering strong audiences for the advertising -- nothing wrong with that. And it did a smart job leveraging Doritos' early buzz for the forthcoming Super Bowl. But Coke Zero seemed to have a few more, fresher ideas in its approach to media.

Research and data compiled by Nora Scullin at Optimedia.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Antony Young is CEO of Optimedia US -- a Publicis Groupe-owned media planning and buying agency headquartered in New York. He will be publishing his second book in December, "Brand Media Strategy: Integrated Communication Planning in a Digital Era," from Palgrave-MacMillan and Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @antonyyoung.
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