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Pepsi Blocks Coke From First Half of Super Bowl

But Soft-Drink Rival Hopes to Lock in Exclusivity for Third Quarter

By Published on .

A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The cola wars are moving to the Super Bowl. PepsiCo has arranged to block other marketers of non-alcoholic beverages from advertising in the first half of next year's gridiron classic, according to media buyers and other executives with knowledge of the situation. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola is considering locking up a similar deal in the third quarter, according to some of these people.

Pepsi has held sway in the Super Bowl for many years, running ads like this one with Britney Spears.
Pepsi has held sway in the Super Bowl for many years, running ads like this one with Britney Spears.
Ensuring category exclusivity isn't an entirely new tactic in the Super Bowl -- Anheuser-Busch has long been able to block other marketers of beer from the game -- but media buyers say they can't recall Pepsi using the option in recent years. While Coke is trying to work out an exclusive pact, it is not a done deal, according to people familiar with the situation. NBC will air Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1, 2009, from Tampa Bay, Fla.

Deal done by OMD
A Pepsi-Cola spokewoman confirmed that its products would be the only sodas advertised in the first half of the pigskin classic. The deal was constructed by Omnicom Group's OMD, said Pepsi-Cola spokeswoman Nicole Bradley, and "this is one of the many efficiencies they bring us on a global basis."

These fizzy soda-marketing efforts illustrate just how much importance the nation's two big beverage rivals place on one of the biggest and best-known venues for advertising. Pepsi has held sway in the Super Bowl for many years, running ads featuring Britney Spears and P. Diddy. In 1996, one famous Pepsi Super Bowl effort showed a Coca-Cola deliveryman trying to sneak a Pepsi from a convenience-store fridge to the strains of Hank Williams singing "Your Cheatin' Heart." Pepsi spent $192.8 million on Super Bowl advertising between 1988 and 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence, second only during that time period to Anheuser-Busch, which spent $274.2 million.

Meanwhile, Coke has ramped up its Super Bowl presence in recent years. In 2008's contest, Coke triumphed with a fun ad showing balloon characters (Underdog and Stewie from "Family Guy) in the style of floats that appear in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade chasing after a balloon version of a bottle of Coke -- only to be outmaneuvered by Charlie Brown. Pepsi ran an ad for Pepsi Stuff that made use of Justin Timberlake.

2007's battle
Coca-Cola returned to the Super Bowl in 2007 after an eight-year hiatus. That year, Coke made use of two clever ads from its agency, Wieden & Kennedy, and scored at the Bowl creatively in consumers' eyes -- even though its ads had appeared during "American Idol" and in movie theaters before making their Super Bowl debuts. Pepsi sponsored the event's halftime show, but Coke's ads got the chatter.

One Coke ad looked like a video game, featuring an animated do-gooder character passing out the company's popular soda to others he encountered. The other spot took an offbeat look at what happens inside a vending machine. Meanwhile, Pepsi promoted Sierra Mist, using improv comedians who had appeared previously in ads created by BBDO for the beverage. One spot centered on a man who wore a non-traditional hairstyle -- the "beard comb-over."

Clearly, the exclusive maneuvers would keep ads from each beverage company separate, and perhaps place some distance between them in consumers' minds. While TV networks traditionally keep ads from the two apart in commercial breaks, Super Bowl ads tend to make a bigger splash and some -- like a famous Apple Macintosh ad from 1984 -- make a tremendous impression on the collective memory of consumer culture. What's more, Pepsi tends to use one ad in many years to poke fun at its rival -- as was the case in 2006, when Pepsi used actor Jackie Chan to take a smack at Diet Coke.

Pepsi may have other reasons to keep its competitor at arm's length. While it's not clear yet what products the beverage company will be promoting in the game, Pepsi has moved creative work for both Gatorade and its flagship Pepsi cola to a new agency. Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day is the firm that created the famous Apple ad, and could have lots of material to work with, given that Pepsi and Gatorade are getting new packaging and logos early in 2009. Pepsi made the switch to TBWA after using Omnicom sibling BBDO for decades.

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CORRECTION: This story originally stated that Pepsi had locked in exclusivity for the halftime show as well as the first half. Pepsi's deal only extends to the first half of the game.

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