Here’s a marketing challenge for you: If you had to come up with a truthful slogan for Cola — say Coca-Cola or Pepsi Cola — what would it be?
I have a long history with soda. I loved to drink it growing up. Orange Crush was a favorite and I didn’t mind the generic versions my parents would bring home. Grape, Orange, Black Cherry? Great! As I got older, I settled in with Coca-Cola. It was also my older sister’s favorite and when I lived in Atlanta it was the hometown drink. Pepsi became a favorite after the move to California, if for no other reason than it was what my wife preferred (and therefore bought and brought home).
And now? Well, now I’m trying to cut soda out of my life. Sorry Coke and Pepsi! I just don’t need your empty calories anymore. I am also trying to deny you the next generation of soda drinkers. We have never let my sons drink soda and I cringe when I see parents allowing their grade school kids to guzzle one.
If you boil it down, colas are carbonated water with sugar (or sugar substitute), caffeine, and artificial colors. If I had to pick a truth in advertising slogan for cola, I’d go with:
Sugary, caffeinated goodness (that is oh so bad for you)
OK, probably not a slogan that will sell a lot of soda. So how has the marketing departments of Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola chosen to position their product over the years? With a little help from Wikipedia, we can take a look at Coca-Cola slogans since Coke was first created. Through the 1950s, we see that in general Coca-Cola focused on the functional benefits of the product:
- 1905 – Coca-Cola revives and sustains (What the product does)
- 1906 – The great national temperance beverage. (A practical alternative to getting drunk)
- 1927 – Pure as Sunlight (Reinforcing product quality)
- 1929 – The pause that refreshes. (Coke refreshes — My personal favorite)
- 1954 – For people on the go. (Packaging advantage: that famous contour bottle)
In 1976, Coca-Cola slogans began to focus more on ‘product emotions’ or how the product makes customers feel. Here is a selection of slogans starting in 1976:
- 1976 – Coke adds life. (Your life is not complete without Coke)
- 1979 – Have a Coke and a smile (Coke will make you happy)
- 1989 – Can’t Beat the Feeling. (Coke will make you feel good)
- 2001 – Life tastes good (Coke makes life better)
- 2009 – Open Happiness (Coke IS happiness)
In the book Built to Love: Creating Products That Captivate Customers, authors Boatwright and Cagan discuss how “Many firms… attempt to use emotions rather than provide emotions. Such firms attempt to get the consumer into an emotional state of mind, where the consumer makes an emotional decision to buy the product. This use (or misuse) of emotions is often what people think of when they say that marketers attempt to sell them what they don’t need.”
Selling us something we don’t need? Say it isn’t so Coca-Cola! Well, surely Pepsi isn’t shamelessly pandering to our emotions? Pepsi has long been in the number 2 position and their early Pepsi slogans reflected that status:
- 1939–1950: “Twice as Much for a Nickel” (Selling on cost)
- 1950: “More Bounce to the Ounce” (Selling on value)
- 1957–1958: “Say Pepsi, Please” (Please buy our product?)
- 1983: “It’s cheaper than Coke!” (Sounds a little desperate)
In 1984, Pepsi had a lot of success with their “Take the Pepsi Chalenge!” campaign which pushed Coke into the debacle that was New Coke. Since then, it seems Pepsi’s focus has been on the younger generation:
- 1984–1991: “Pepsi. The Choice of a New Generation” (Appealing to the young)
- 1992–1993: “Be Young, Have Fun, Drink Pepsi” (Pepsi is for the young and fun)
- 1995–1996: “Drink Pepsi. Get Stuff.” (What teenager doesn’t like free stuff?)
- 1997–1998: “Generation Next” (Comes after Generation X)
Neither Coca-Cola’s attempts to attach emotions to their product nor Pepsi’s appeal to the younger generation will sway me from my self-imposed cola abstinence. What are they getting for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on advertising? Well, I do enjoy their commercials. Here is one of my favorites (also discussed in Built to Love: Creating Products That Captivate Customers):
Quick quiz question: Which cola, Coke or Pepsi, has it’s own superhero mascot in Japan? For the answer, click here.