Coke vs Pepsi: The Battle to Avoid Fizzing Out

Bernd Schmitt and Matthew Quint of the Center on Global Brand Leadership deconstruct the cola wars, from the Pepsi Challenge to “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.”

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Coke or Pepsi?

Whatever your answer, the mere fact that you have an answer underscores the branding power that these two multibillion-dollar soda companies have built through decades of influential marketing and clever advertising.

“Coca-Cola versus Pepsi stands out in the history of marketing as one of the great, great fights between two brands,” says Bernd Schmitt, the Robert D. Calkins Professor of International Business, in this new video feature produced by Vanity Fair. “Both brands try to be always relevant. Sometimes one brand is more successful than the other, that’s why this is such a fantastic brand battle over the decades.”

Schmitt and Matthew Quint, who are the faculty director and director, respectively, of the Business School’s Center on Global Brand Leadership, together deconstruct the so-called cola wars, from Coca-Cola’s 1971 television ad popularizing the song “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” to Pepsi’s infamous 2017 political ad featuring Kendall Jenner.

“Part of the reason these are ubiquitous brands is not just because they’re on the shelf whenever you go to the supermarket but also because they’ve created an ethos that raised them into brands that are part of the public discussion,” says Quint.

Both multinational food and beverage conglomerates are now going through major leadership changes. Just a year after Coke got a new CEO, PepsiCo’s longtime chief has announced she will step down after more than a decade. Whatever direction the new leaders take, their courses will be steered by decades of marketing that has influenced culture, driven billions of dollars in consumer spending, and shaped the meaning of something as simple as drinking fizzy water.

“What is absolutely amazing is that you have something like sugar water, basically, with a secret formula,” says Schmitt, “and it’s being stylized into grand battles of values and ideals and how a society should be governed, and it’s all in there in the advertising.”

About the researcher

Bernd Schmitt

Professor Schmitt is Robert D. Calkins Professor of International Business at Columbia Business School. He researches, teaches, and advises corporations on branding, innovation, creative...

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About the researcher

Matthew Quint

Matthew Quint is a Director in the Center on Global Brand Leadership. Matthew researches, writes, and presents on a wide range of issues critical...

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