Pepsi, Coke Try to Outdo Each Other With Rays of Sunshine

Happiness Becomes Front for Warring Cola Giants in a Dismal Economy

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- The latest wrinkle in the cola wars: the battle of the upbeat.

Pepsi now boasts a series of smiling logos, and a new tagline, "Every generation refreshes the world," was set to roll out over the weekend. Coca-Cola, meanwhile, is poised to launch a campaign, "Open happiness," that will replace its "Coke side of life" -- which is, naturally, the bright side.

Pepsi's new smiling logos are part of the marketer's positivity push, which also includes a new tagline: 'Every generation refreshes the world.'
Pepsi's new smiling logos are part of the marketer's positivity push, which also includes a new tagline: 'Every generation refreshes the world.'
Of course, both brands have strived for uplifting messages over the years -- "Have a Coke and a smile" and "Joy of Pepsi" come to mind -- but the taglines didn't often run concurrently. Now, though, there appears to be a new urgency to the jollity, as both brands seem simultaneously intent on brightening up a gloomy economic landscape marred by job losses and stock-market stumbles.

For two fierce rivals that have worked hard over the decades to maintain separate brand identities, could the rush to prove just who's happier actually be counterproductive?

No, said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest. "It's potentially hugely positive for the category," he said, and the fact that the campaigns have similar messaging should serve only to heighten competition between the two, as they work to differentiate themselves.

"The cola wars are at a level now that I haven't seen in close to a decade," he said. "Both companies today are sufficiently well-managed and stable enough that they are intensely focused on the consumer. ... The best thing this industry can have is an activated, competitive Coke and Pepsi going at each other at the same time."

Who smiled first?
And they certainly are going at each other. Already, the pair are squaring off over who smiled first.

In discussing the launch of "Live positively" at the Beverage Digest Future Smarts conference last month, Joe Tripodi, chief marketing and commercial officer for Coca-Cola, pointed out that the company had embraced the smiling logo more than six months ago, before archrival Pepsi introduced its smiley series of logos.

"Design can be a competitive advantage," Mr. Tripodi said. "It's interesting to see our primary competitor realizing that now too with a smile."

But now that Coca-Cola's campaign is poised to launch, weeks after Pepsi's campaign, the tables have turned. "Pepsi has always stood for the spirit of optimism and youth," said Nicole Bradley, a spokeswoman for Pepsi. "It's great to see that our friends in Atlanta are finally cheering up."

Peter Arnell, architect of Pepsi's new logo, said of Coca-Cola's campaign: "It's a wonderful moment in the history of Pepsi, and Coke is following us.

"To see [Coke] come out with that is great, because it just means that they're following suit in what everybody should be doing now," he added. "We put a lot of pressure on the category by doing something different. We captured the zeitgeist."

Cloistered creativity
And for those who would argue President-elect Barack Obama came out before either Pepsi or Coke with a snazzy logo and an upbeat message, Mr. Arnell set the record straight. "When I design things, I design in a pure vacuum. When I did the Pepsi logo, I told Pepsi that I wanted to go to Asia, to China and Japan, for a month and tuck myself away and just design it and study it and create it," he said. "There was a lot of research, a lot of consumer data points ... and dialogue that I had with the folks at Pepsi, consumers and retailers. We knew what we were doing."

Indeed, industry watchers say it's no surprise that both companies have similar messages in these dismal times. Given their extensive market research and consumer-insight capabilities, those people said, each company likely turned up data months ago that set them off in an upbeat direction.

Jeff Cioletti, editor in chief of Beverage World, said it makes sense for the cola companies, which represent comfort and happiness to millions, to tap into that heritage. "It's like somebody threw this gigantic, transcontinental wet blanket across the whole country -- the world even," he said. "[Upbeat campaigns] are a no-brainer."

Hal Fass, senior consultant at Consumer Dynamics, said the firm is advising clients to paint a rosier picture. "People, overall, are recognizing that there is no advantage to being down and discouraged," he said. "At the root of what has always made carbonated soft drinks appealing is they're enjoyable -- the bubbles, the sweetness, everything -- so it's a good fit."

Coca-Cola's "Open happiness," created by Wieden & Kennedy, is expected to air in more than 100 markets and be used across a variety of media. Coca-Cola has remained mum about "Open happiness" and declined to comment for this article. Pepsi's new tagline, "Every generation refreshes the world," was to be unveiled over the weekend in "Pass," the second spot from TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles.

"Both campaigns are a little surprising," said Kevin Keller, professor of marketing at Dartmouth College. "I'm surprised Coke would walk away from 'Coke side of life.' I felt that had a lot of life left in it. It really gave a lot of clarity to their whole point of view."

Pepsi, meanwhile, has always had a youthful persona, Mr. Keller went on, and it's not entirely clear how the brand will slant its optimistic message to appeal specifically to young consumers and build on that heritage. So far, advertising has focused on buoyant words and phrases, without any connections to product or people.

That could quickly change, however, with the second commercial and a series of planned inauguration events. "As a topical brand and cultural leader, it's our responsibility to add value in these moments," said Anamaria Irazabal, director-trademark, Pepsi. "Two things that define Pepsi are change and, compared to our key competitor, something that defines them, they are timeless: We are timely. We are always topical. We are always a part of the conversation."

Cheer leaders
Coke and Pepsi aren't the only brands selling a happy, empowering or upbeat message these days. Here are some others:

"We are one," Laird & Partners

"You kin do it!" Hill Holliday

"Embrace change," Deutsch

"Believe," JWT

"Life is beautiful. Work can be too," Escape Pod

Advertising Age Embedded Player
Most Popular
In this article: