Soda Wars Summer

Coke and Pepsi have unveiled their competing marketing campaigns for summer 2016. Will the brands’ efforts gain traction among millennials, who have been forsaking soda altogether, or is the growing consumer preference for healthier options too strong to be affected by song lyrics and emojis?


This summer, when the heat has consumers reaching for a refreshing, ice cold soda, they may have a tough decision to make.

Namely, the question of “Coke or Pepsi?” will be replaced with “Music or nonverbal, image-based communication?”

That framework of options, which is clearly less “apples and oranges” and more, let’s say, “apples and competitive horse grooming” — i.e., two things that have little to do with each other, never mind soft drinks — is arguably born of the fact that fewer young Americans are drinking soda, and that has the two biggest retail brands in the game — Coca-Cola and Pepsi — scrambling somewhat to regain millennials’ attention.

Both are launching packaging-based interactive campaigns this summer that aim to engage the ever-so-valuable young consumer. Building off the success of previous summer campaigns (dare we say inexplicable success, in the case of Coke’s SHARE THIS THING WITH YOUR BRO, BRUH; BE SODA BROS 4 LIFE), these titans of the beverage industry seek to engage a public that has been drinking far less of their offerings in recent years.

According to Ad Age, Coca-Cola, for its part, is launching a campaign built around song lyrics on its cans.

This marketing promotion seeks to recreate the success of the brand’s 2014–2015 U.S. “Share a Coke” campaign, so much so that Coke is calling this “phase two” of that very effort (soda bros ride or die, it would appear). The outlet reports that, starting this month, Coke will put song lyrics on packaging pulled from more than 70 popular songs, including Queen’s “We are the Champions” and Lee Greenwood’s patriotic “Proud to Be An American” (both tunes — particularly the latter one — obviously being in constant rotation on most millennials’ Spotify playlists; way to be on trend, Coke).

Called “Share a Coke and a Song”, the campaign debuted this past weekend at an event held during the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament. The Ad Age story notes that it will also be supported by TV advertising, social media efforts and a summer-long “experiential” tour.

Additionally, Coke will be promoting the effort on the mobile channel, encouraging consumers to use the Shazam music app to scan specially marked 20-ounce bottles and in-store signage. The app will also allow users to record a 15-second “digital lip-sync video” that can be shared on social media using the hashtag #ShareaCoke, the brand told Ad Age.

“We really thought it was time to do something more, something different and something potentially better,” Racquel Harris Mason, Coca-Cola North America’s VP for Coca-Cola and Coke Zero, commented to the outlet.

”It was a very big undertaking,” Mason said in regard to securing the rights to all of the lyrics. “And we found incredibly collaborative partners in the music industry that enabled us to bring this to life.” The process, she told Ad Age, took between six and eight months.

Not one to lose out on that sweet, Lee Greenwood-based revenue from millennials without a fight, the Pepsi to Coca-Cola’s Coke — AKA Pepsi — is launching its own interactive campaign this summer called “PepsiMojis.”

Another Ad Age article outlines the perennial bridesmaid soda brand’s campaign as reaching 100 global markets this year, including the U.S, which expands a marketing effort that launched last year across Russia, Canada and Thailand.

At a beverage industry event held in Florida earlier this month, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi enthusiastically explained the campaign thusly: “Emojis are the language of today, but no one has put them in the world like Pepsi will in 2016. With more than 70 global and locally uniquely designed emojis printed on cans, bottles and cups all over the world, you’re going to be able to ‘say it with a Pepsi’ all through the summer of 2016.”

Also not one to be outdone by Coke on the interactive front, Pepsi will support the “PepsiMojis” campaign with a full slate of TV, social media and traditional advertising, a company spokesperson told Ad Age.

The brand has also teamed up with fashion designer Jeremy Scott on a collection of PepsiMoji-inspired sunglasses, according to Women’s Wear Daily, and will be launching a soccer-themed arm to the campaign called “Pepsi Blue Card” featuring prominent soccer players and soccer-inspired emojis.

If the summer campaigns from Coke and Pepsi seem a little all over the place, may we posit that desperate times call for desperate measures.

According to The New York Times, 2015 marked a full decade of soda sales on the decline, with full-calorie varieties taking the hardest hit (20 percent). This move away from soda consumption in the U.S., which up until the 1990s had steadily increased since the 1960s, may anoint the largest single change to the way Americans eat in the last 100 years. The consumer shift can largely be credited to increasing concerns over obesity, especially in younger children, and the passing of mandates and ordinances across the U.S. banning sodas from schools and levying a “soda tax” on beverage distributors in cities like New York and Philadelphia.

While many of these civic and tax programs have backfired or since been recalled, the effect that they’ve had on the public’s perception of soda has, more or less, stuck, and today, many consumers reach for other beverages that are marketed as healthier alternatives. Soda consumption among teenagers dropped a daunting 24 percent from 2007 to 2013, according to a report by the CDC.

To be fair, consumers’ changing tastes are still far from driving Coke and Pepsi into the ground; what they have done is motivated the brands to shift their product development and offerings to approach potential customers from a different angle.

The three largest beverage companies (that’s Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group) have pivoted to offer iced teas, sports drinks and flavored waters, all fast-growing segments. Since 2004, notes NYT, Coca-Cola has increased the number of individual products it offers from 400 to 700.

Another trick up the soda brands’ sleeves? Smaller containers, which generate the perception of packing fewer calories and — as a bonus for the companies — customers appear to be amenable to paying a higher price per ounce for the smaller portions.

At a 2015 meeting of beverage companies in New York, NYT shares, Regan Ebert, senior vice president for marketing at Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, observed: “There’s consumers out there that don’t want to consume too much; [the smaller cans] do a good job of solving that need for consumers.”

If all goes according to plan, we may soon be seeing tiny soccer-playing emojis on 7.5-ounce Pepsi minicans or squinting to see the lyrics to, perhaps, Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (runtime: 17:05) on a miniature eight-ounce bottle of Sprite.

Will it work? We’ll find out this summer. In the meantime, Coke and Pepsi doubtlessly have their sticky fingers crossed.