Coke will sit out Super Bowl as Big Game cola marketing goes flat
There is a truce in the Super Bowl cola wars. Coca Cola Co. confirmed today that it won’t run an ad in the Feb. 7 game. Pepsi-Cola previously stated it would not air a standalone ad for its trademark cola, and instead will focus on its halftime sponsorship.
"This difficult choice was made to ensure we are investing in the right resources during these unprecedented times," Coca-Cola said in a statement to Ad Age. "We’ll be toasting to our fellow brands with an ice-cold Coke from the sidelines."
The last time Coke and Pepsi-Cola both sat out the Big Game was in 2000, when Coca-Cola did not run any ads and PepsiCo highlighted Mtn Dew, according to the Ad Age Super Bowl archive. Mtn Dew will run an ad this year, and Pepsi’s halftime show marketing is significant, including a campaign leading up to the game that stars The Weeknd, who is headlining the show. (PepsiCo is also running Super Bowl ads for Cheetos and Doritos.)
But the absence of standalone spots for the nation’s two largest cola brands is a significant development, given that Coke and Pepsi often battle for attention during the top-watched TV event of the year.
Coke’s decision to sit out the game comes amid corporate layoffs, a major restructuring of the beverage giant’s business and a global creative and media agency review that is expected to last for months. Wieden+Kennedy typically handles Coke’s Super Bowl ads. Coca-Cola Co. has run an ad in the game every year since 2006, except for 2019, when it opted to run a pre-game spot. This year, the brand won’t even run ads in the pre-game, a spokeswoman confirmed.
Coke and Pepsi both face coronavirus headwinds that have led to depressed sales in stadiums and other on-premise venues. However, both brands have performed well at grocery stores, as homebound consumers scoop up plenty of beverages. Pepsi-Cola’s retail sales volume was up 7% in the first nine months of 2020, according to Beverage Digest, while Coke shot up 8.3%. But Coca-Cola relies more on so-called away-from-home consumption than Pepsi, points out Beverage Digest Editor and Publisher Duane Stanford; Coca-Cola has said this business accounts for about half of its global revenue.
Coca-Cola is “in the middle of a very difficult time, where half their business globally is impacted by lockdowns and pandemic. If there is any year that you are going to sit out and reassess and reprioritize it would be this year,” Stanford says.
He also pointed to the larger atmosphere in the nation—as people deal with the pandemic and political unrest—as a reason why both Coke and Pepsi might want to avoid running Super Bowl ads. “The Super Bowl is typically something where these companies are generating fun, upbeat moods around their products,” he says. But “this is just a year that even if you spend and try to do that, that you are not necessarily going to get the same bang for your buck. It may be even difficult to do it in a way that doesn’t come off flat.”