Coke and Pepsi—Similar Marketing Campaigns, Opposite Outcome

Oct 28, 2014 | Marketing

The Basics

Social media isn’t enough for good marketing. Good causes aren’t enough. Even great interaction isn’t enough. Marketing must center around the product. And in today’s society, the more personalized you can make your messaging and products, the more irresistible you will become.

The Meat and Potatoes

Coke and Pepsi have both been down in sales for the last several years because Americans have made healthy living a higher priority. As a result, carbonated beverage sales have plummeted, causing both iconic cola companies to launch unique marketing campaigns within the last five years. Both aimed to get customers to interact directly with the brand, to build relationships, and to share with others. While Coke’s campaign was wildly successful, Pepsi’s totally tanked. Let’s look at what made the difference.

The Case Studies

  • Coke
    The 2014 summer “Share a Coke” campaign pulled product sales out of a 10-year decline. The idea was to personalize the brand and help people share it with their friends, at the same time offering them a chance to interact with Coke. As their website boasted, ”Americans can now get on a first-name basis with their bottle of Coca-Cola, Diet Coke and Coke Zero.”What made this campaign so wildly successful? Aimed at Millennials and teens, the concept not only appealed to their desire for individualization, but also for relationships. “For teens and Millennials, personalization is not a fad, it’s a way of life,” said Stuart Kronauge, senior vice president, Sparkling Brands, Coca-Cola North America. “It’s about self-expression, individual storytelling and staying connected with friends. ‘Share a Coke’ taps into all of those passions.”Seeing an iconic brand that literally has your name on it is powerful. It connects you to the brand and prompts you to purchase. Seeing a Coke with someone else’s name or a tagline like “BFF” or “Soulmate” makes you want to buy one to share with that person.Entrepreneur pointed out an age-old marketing truth: Customers find personalization irresistible. And apparently 78 percent of consumers feel that brands that create unique and personalized content are more interested in building a relationship with them (Hanley-Wood Business Media, 2013).

    The campaign also included the ability to custom-make bottles with your name. It also launched its own website ( for sharing photos and finding your personalized product. It made summer moments seem sweeter. “Summer is the perfect time to get together with others and share moments of happiness over an ice-cold Coke at barbecues, sporting events, family reunions, amusement park outings and other gatherings,” said Kronauge. “Now, enjoying a Coke with your name on it and sharing the occasion with someone else makes these moments even more special.” Check out this video to see what she means:

  • Pepsi
    In 2010, Pepsi’s “Refresh” campaign was an attempt to differentiate the brand by creating unique opportunities for customers to interact with Pepsi and share its value with others, especially via social media. In a radical leap of faith, Pepsi decided to nix all traditional marketing, focusing all efforts on social media marketing and using the money saved—$20 million—to give to charities. Pepsi generated an online lottery that randomly selected charities, which customers could then go onto social media pages and vote on—while at the same time interacting with Pepsi and building social relationships.Like Coke, Pepsi aimed this campaign at Millennials. The difference, however, was that Pepsi’s plan was a flop. It cost them 6 percent of their market share and an estimated half-billion dollars. It also made them drop to third place for most popular soft drink (below Coke and Diet Coke). Why?They didn’t have a direct product tie-in. They promoted a socially responsible image more than Pepsi.Yes they were featured in thousands of newspapers and TV stations for their then-revolutionary marketing idea. They planned to spread the campaign worldwide, and were praised for uniqueness. Yes, they met their goals for social media, receiving over 80 million votes, almost 3.5 million likes on Facebook, and gaining almost 60,000 Twitter followers.

    But as one blogger said, “They achieved all the false goals and failed to achieve the only legitimate one.” In other words, they didn’t sell more Pepsi.

The Take-Away

So, what can be learned from these iconic marketing campaigns? Social media isn’t enough. Good causes aren’t enough. Even good interaction isn’t enough. Good marketing must focus around the product. And in today’s society, the more personalized you can make your messaging and products—the more people will find you irresistible.


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