The cola wars spilled into the Georgia state legislature this week when an Atlanta-area lawmaker used a floor speech to defend Coke against Pepsi, which has blanketed the city with billboards and other marketing in advance of the Super Bowl. PepsiCo is an official National Football League sponsor, but Coca-Cola Co. is headquartered in Atlanta, where the game will be played.
"I have to tell you that as I have driven around the city this week, I have seen some disturbing signs," Rep. Wes Cantrell, a Republican who represents the Atlanta suburb of Woodstock, said during a morning order speech, referencing Pepsi's advertising onslaught.
Then, after putting some Coke bottles on his podium, he goes on to make reference to Pepsi's Super Bowl ad, which takes on the habit of waiters asking patrons if Pepsi is OK when Coke is not available. In the ad, by Goodby Silverstein & Parnters, Steve Carell goes on a rant saying "Pepsi is more than OK."
Cantrell's response: "Yeah it's OK but I wasn't looking for an OK experience. I was looking to have the original, the real thing." He adds, "Are you with me?"—drawing applause. "Friends don't let friends drink a Coke wanna be...especially in Georgia."
A Coca-Cola spokeswoman says the company was not involved in the speech, which is hardly an act of political courage, considering Coke's Atlanta dominance. "Georgia has indeed been very hospitable and Pepsi is more than OK. It's awesome," a Pepsi spokeswoman said in an emailed statement in response to the speech.
Pepsi has covered the city with billboards with sayings such as, "Hey Atlanta, thanks for hosting, we'll bring the drinks." Pepsi is tweaking Coke in other ways, too, like hosting a Super Bowl-themed concert Friday night at a venue that once served as the home of World of Coca-Cola museum, Beverage-Digest reported in a tweet today.
Turns out @Pepsi's #PlanetPepsi will be staged tonight at the site of the original World of Coca-Cola near Underground Atlanta, we've learned. And they are using the old building which has been vacant since 2007. #SuperBowlColaWars #SBLIII pic.twitter.com/BtjO4ptdoz— Beverage-Digest (@BeverageDigest) February 1, 2019
Earlier this week, Pepsi put a statue of the cola's inventor, Caleb Bradham, next to an existing statue of Coke's founder, John Pemberton, that is near the current World of Coke venue. On Twitter, the brand made light of the tagline that Coke is using in its pregame Super Bowl ad, "Together is Beautiful."
Hey @CocaCola we swung by but it looks like you weren't into having us over today…that doesn't feel very #TogetherIsBeautiful. Too bad since it seems like our founders thought it was a good idea when we came by to see you this morning. 😉 pic.twitter.com/engF70okKh— Pepsi™ (@pepsi) January 30, 2019
The on-the-ground marketing assault, plus the Super Bowl ad, represent a new aggressiveness from Pepsi. "The Pepsi brand has gone through a pretty tough couple of years and they seem to be finding their footing again and embracing their challenger status," says Beverage-Digest Editor Duane Stanford. "Both companies are going to keep it civil, but without a doubt Pepsi is having fun poking the bear."
Last year, dollar sales of regular Coke in the U.S. increased 1 percent, while regular Pepsi fell 2 percent, according to Beverage-Digest.
"We are absolutely acting as a challenger brand and Pepsi is embracing that role. It's not just in the 30-second ad …we have billboards all over the city of Atlanta," Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer for Pepsi's North American beverages division, said in an interview earlier this week. "It is consistent with how a challenger brand acts and I do think you will see some more of that from us going forward."
In a statement to Ad Age, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman played nice: "Honestly, it has been fun to watch our competitor enjoy our hometown as much as we do. They've clearly spent a lot of time discovering what makes Atlanta so special and we appreciate all they've done to help make the city shine."
On social media, Pepsi is mixing its aggression with a bit of an olive branch. In a tweet earlier this week the brand pledged to donate meals to people in need in response to people tweeting "#ColaTruce." It spurred some people to post pictures of Cola cans giving cheers to Pepsi cans.
A PepsiCo spokeswoman said the company has donated 130,000 meals.
In appreciation of the city of Atlanta, we want to use today's #ColaTruce to do some good.— Pepsi™ (@pepsi) January 30, 2019
For every RT or post that uses the hashtags #ColaTruce and #Share2Donate, we'll donate a meal to those in need in Atlanta through a partnership with @UnitedWayATL pic.twitter.com/DWukny3CWF