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Coca-Cola and Pepsi vending machines in Indianapolis, 1988

The Cola wars are the long-time rivalry between soft drink producers The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, who have engaged in mutually-targeted marketing campaigns for the direct competition between each company's product lines, especially their flagship colas, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Beginning in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, the competition escalated until it became known as the cola wars.[1][2]


In 1886, John Stith Pemberton, a pharmacist from Atlanta, Georgia, developed the original recipe for Coca-Cola. By 1888, control of the recipe was acquired by Asa Griggs Candler, who in 1896, founded The Coca-Cola Company.[3][4] Two years later, in 1898, Caleb Bradham renamed his "Brad’s Drink" to "Pepsi-Cola," and formed the Pepsi-Cola Company in 1902, prompting the beginning of the cola wars.[5]

The two companies continued to introduce new and contemporary advertising techniques, such as Coke's first celebrity endorsement and 1915 contour bottle, until market instability following World War I forced Pepsi to declare bankruptcy in 1923. In 1931, Pepsi went bankrupt once more, but recovered and began selling its products at an affordable 5 cents per bottle, reigniting the cola wars through to today.[6] Pepsi offered to sell out to Coca-Cola following both of its bankruptcies during this time, but Coca-Cola declined each time.[7]

Advertising strategies


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Coca-Cola advertising has historically focused on wholesomeness and nostalgia. Coca-Cola advertising is often characterized as "family-friendly" and often relies on "cute" characters (e.g., the Coca-Cola polar bears mascot and Santa Claus around Christmas).[8]

"New Coke"

During the peak of the cola wars, as Coca-Cola saw its flagship product losing market share to Pepsi as well as to Diet Coke and competitors products, the company considered a change to the beverage's formula and flavor. In April 1985, The Coca-Cola Company introduced its new formula for Coca-Cola, which became popularly known as "New Coke". Consumer backlash to the change led to the company making a strategic retreat on July 11, 1985, announcing its plans to bring back the previous formula under the name "Coca-Cola Classic".[9] Some think the decision to replace the original flavor was actually a strategic masterstroke to bolster Coke sales once it came back on the market, which it did; however, the Coca-Cola Company vehemently denies the claim.[10]


Pepsi advertising is heavily supported by strategic sponsorships and online marketing. Pepsi's logo utilizes the red, white and blue colors of the flag of the United States, drawing on a strong sense of patriotism throughout its branding.[6]

Pepsi Challenge

In 1975, Pepsi began showing advertisements based on the Pepsi Challenge, in which ordinary people were asked which product they preferred in blind taste tests.[2] The campaign suggested that, when it came down to taste alone, consumers preferred Pepsi over Coca-Cola. This prompted Coca-Cola's creation of the successful Diet Coke in 1982, and the unsuccessful New Coke three years later, both of which led to a major shifting point in the cola wars. However, the Pepsi Challenge was a marketing campaign and not a scientific study. Subsequent studies with scientific controls found only modest differences between Pepsi and Coke.[9]

"Pepsi Stuff"

In the mid-1990s, Pepsi launched its most successful long-term strategy of the cola wars, Pepsi Stuff. Using the slogan "Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff", consumers could collect Pepsi Points on packages and cups which could be redeemed for free Pepsi merchandise. After researching and testing the program for over two years to ensure that it resonated with consumers, Pepsi launched Pepsi Stuff, which was an instant success. Due to its success, the program was expanded to include Mountain Dew and Pepsi's international markets worldwide. The company continued to run the program for many years, continually innovating with new features each year.[11] This line of commercials led to the court case Leonard v. Pepsico, Inc., which was chronicled in the 2022 Netflix show Pepsi, Where's My Jet?

Super Bowl LIII

Super Bowl LIII was played in Atlanta, which is where Coca-Cola has its head office, in 2019. Pepsi had been a major sponsor of the NFL for years, most recently renewing its sponsorship deal in 2011. Pepsi advertising tied to the game poked fun at the situation with slogans such as "Pepsi in Atlanta. How Refreshing", "Hey Atlanta, Thanks For Hosting. We'll Bring The Drinks", and "Look Who's in Town for Super Bowl LIII". Both companies ran television ads during the Super Bowl, as Coca-Cola aired the commercial "A Coke is a Coke" just before the Super Bowl's National Anthem, while Pepsi ran a series of ads with the tagline "Is Pepsi OK?".[12]

Comparison of products

Many of the brands available from the three largest soda producers, The Coca-Cola Company,[13] PepsiCo[14] and Keurig Dr Pepper, are intended as direct, equivalent competitors. The following chart lists these competitors by type or flavor of drink.

Flavor/type PepsiCo The Coca-Cola Company Keurig Dr Pepper
Cola Pepsi Coca-Cola RC Cola
Schweppes Cola
Diet/sugar-free cola Diet Pepsi/Pepsi Light
Pepsi Max
Pepsi ONE
Pepsi Zero Sugar
Pepsi Next
Pepsi True
Diet Coke/Coca-Cola Light
Coca-Cola Zero Sugar
Tab (discontinued)
Coca-Cola Life (discontinued)
Diet Rite
Diet RC
RC Zero Sugar
Caffeine-free cola Caffeine-Free Pepsi Caffeine-Free Coca-Cola RC 100
Cherry-flavored cola Pepsi Wild Cherry Coca-Cola Cherry Cherry RC
Pepper-style DOC 360
Dr Slice (discontinued)
Mr. Pibb/Pibb Xtra Dr Pepper
Orange Mirinda
Tropicana Twister
Crush (in the US and Canada)
Minute Maid
Simply Orange
Royal Tru Orange
Crush (in countries other than the US and Canada)
Lemon-lime Starry
Teem (discontinued)
Slice (discontinued)
Sierra Mist (discontinued)
7 Up (in countries other than the US)
Sprite 7 Up (in the US)
Citrus Mountain Dew Mello Yello
Sun Drop
Grapefruit and other citrus flavors Kas
Citrus Blast
LiltFanta Portello (Sri Lanka only)
Ginger ale Patio Seagram's Ginger Ale Canada Dry
Root beer Mug Root Beer Barq's
Ramblin' Root Beer (until 1995)
A&W Root Beer
Stewart's Rootbeer
Hires Root Beer
Cream soda Mug Cream Soda Barq's Red Creme Soda A&W Cream Soda
Stewart's Cream Soda
Juices Tropicana
(prepackaged only, under license)
Minute Maid
Simply Orange
Nantucket Nectars
Iced tea Lipton
Pure Leaf
(ready-to-drink products only, under license from Unilever)
(manufactured by Nestlé in the US and by a joint venture between Nestlé and Coca-Cola elsewhere)
Gold Peak Tea
Peace Tea
Sports drinks Gatorade
Vitamin Water
All Sport
Energy drinks AMP
Mountain Dew Kickstart
Coca-Cola Energy
Full Throttle
Monster Energy
(manufactured by Monster Beverage, co-owned by and distributed by Coca-Cola)
Adrenaline Shoc
Bottled water Aquafina
Dejà Blue
Sparkling water Bubly Aha Limitless

See also


  1. ^ Kim Bhasin (January 1, 2013). "COKE VS. PEPSI: The Story Behind The Neverending 'Cola Wars'". Business Insider. Archived from the original on October 26, 2015. Retrieved November 11, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "1975: Cola wars heat up with launch of Pepsi Challenge". The Drum. Archived from the original on 2020-11-27. Retrieved 2020-08-29.
  3. ^ "The Birth of a Refreshing Idea: Coca-Cola History". Archived from the original on 2021-03-23. Retrieved 2021-03-21.
  4. ^ Kim Bhasin (January 1, 2013). "COKE VS. PEPSI: The Amazing Story Behind The Cola Wars". Business Insider. Archived from the original on December 28, 2021. Retrieved March 20, 2021.
  5. ^ "History of the Birthplace of Pepsi". Archived from the original on 2019-06-05. Retrieved 2021-03-21.
  6. ^ a b Ken C. (August 2019). "Coke vs. Pepsi: The Story Behind the Biggest Marketing Rivalry in History". Archived from the original on 2021-04-13. Retrieved 2021-03-21.
  7. ^ Mark Pendergrast (2000). For God, Country and Coca-Cola. Basic Books. pp. 192–193. ISBN 0-465-05468-4.
  8. ^ Paracha, Nadeem F. (2017-04-26). "Cola wars: A social and political history". DAWN.COM. Archived from the original on 2020-10-20. Retrieved 2020-11-13.
  9. ^ a b Becky Little. "How the 'Blood Feud' Between Coke and Pepsi Escalated During the 1980s Cola Wars". Archived from the original on 2021-03-04. Retrieved 2021-03-21.
  10. ^ Lily Rothman. "Here's What New Coke Tasted Like". Archived from the original on 2021-04-11. Retrieved 2021-03-21.
  11. ^ "Pop Go the Points". Archived from the original on 2008-03-21.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  12. ^ Delaney Strunk (29 January 2019). "The biggest rivalry in Atlanta on Super Bowl weekend has nothing to do with football". CNN. Archived from the original on 24 April 2019. Retrieved Apr 27, 2019.
  13. ^ "Brands". The Coca-Cola Company. Archived from the original on 2012-12-24. Retrieved 2013-08-18.
  14. ^ "PepsiCo Corporate Site". Archived from the original on 2020-11-30. Retrieved 2013-08-18.
  15. ^ "LIFEWTR". PepsiCo, Inc. Archived from the original on 2018-02-14. Retrieved 2018-02-13.