Coke vs. Pepsi
Let the Cola Wars begin! Welcome to WatchMojo, and in today's installment of "Versus," we're going to be pitting two of the soft drink world's biggest rivals against each other once again for cola supremacy. Both of these companies have earned themselves immense amounts of brand loyalty over the years, and we're going to examine both Coke and Pepsi on a number of different criteria, before finally settling upon one empire to rule the kingdom of carbonated beverages!
Round 1: Variety
Sure, everyone likes a cola now and again, but what about those times when you want something a little different? Well, luckily both The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo have got you covered in that department. Coke, for their part, offers plenty of variations on their classic Coke formula, including Cherry Coke, Caffeine Free, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Vanilla, and Coke Zero selections for the sugar-conscious.
The company's expansion never really loses focus of what got them to the dance in the first place, however: that being the classic Coke taste. This is likely in response to the disastrous New Coke campaign from the 1980s, where The Coca-Cola Company attempted to rebrand their flagship soda with a new taste – producing the massively embarrassing flop that was New Coke.
In comparison, in addition to the direct alternative to the aforementioned Coke offerings, Pepsi seems to love experimenting with as many wild flavors as they can, hammering home the company's desire to be perceived as the young and rebellious upstart to Coca-Cola traditional ways.
Lemon, lime, caramel and even spicy flavor profiles have all found themselves with a Pepsi to their name. Sure, one could say that all of this variety tends to dilute interest in Pepsi as the main flagship, but the way we see it, the lack of a New Coke means that this round goes to PepsiCo.
Winner: Pepsi : 1 / Coke: 0
Round 2: History
Although there is no one alive today who has lived in a Pepsi-free, Coke-less world, Coca-Cola is typically viewed as the more “traditional” of the big two colas. Coke's history begins in 1886, with a pharmacist named John Pemberton, who marked his Coke recipe – which initially did contain cocaine – as a cure-all tonic of sorts, promising that it would alleviate all sorts of physical ailments, from nervousness and anxiety to depression.
This was, in fact, something Pemberton – a Civil War veteran, nursing a morphine addiction – was very much in need of. However, the pharmacist would sell off his recipe and rights to Coca-Cola shortly after its initial success.
Pepsi's origin story has similar beginnings. Created in 1893 by drug store owner Caleb Bradham, Pepsi was also marketed as something other than just a pleasant, fizzy drink. Bradham claimed that his beverage, then named "Brad's Drink," could aid in digestion, and served it out of the soda fountain in his North Carolina shop. Noting the comparisons between his drink and the digestion enzyme pepsin, a new name and company was then born: Pepsi-Cola.
The company was popular and profitable, it couldn't make it through the sugar-rationing of World War I unscathed, and Pepsi filed for bankruptcy more than once. Bradham would sell off his shares and return to the drug store business by the 1930s, although PepsiCo itself would continue.
Although far from bland, Pepsi's history just doesn't capture the same attention as Coca-Cola's crazy, drug addled beginning.
Winner: Coke: 1 / Pepsi: 1
Round 3: Taste
Sure, we all know that the taste of Coke and Pepsi is completely subjective, and that there's no "right" or "wrong" answer, but admit it: we all have a favorite.
The Coca-Cola recipe has been an intensely guarded secret since 1891, when John Pemberton's original recipe was bought and then modified by one time Coke owner Asa Candler. It's Candler's recipe that we know and some love today, and the actual recipe, according to Coke, is only given to two employees at a time, with a named successor given when one of those employees dies.
The Coke formula specifically is a bit less sweet than Pepsi, and has more sodium. Its flavor profile is heavy on vanilla and raisin notes, while Pemberton's version relied on kola nuts for its caffeine content.
Pepsi's sweetness, meanwhile goes back to the company's post-World War I owner, Charles Guth. Guth also owned a candy manufacturing company named Loft, and he tasked their chemists with making Pepsi's new syrup recipe sweet enough that it could stand out from Coke in the market.
Pepsi set about proving that team blue was superior in earnest in the mid 1970s, and devised the “Pepsi Challenge”, results of which were also often in the company's favor. But it should be said that this is when consumers are being judged by sips, not whole cans. It's here where Coke wins the battle, but ultimately it's Pepsi which wins the war, by a nose, thanks also in part to its stronger burst of caffeine.
Winner: Pepsi: 2 / Coke: 1
Round 4: Branding & Advertising
No two companies have butted heads quite like Coke and Pepsi. Coca-Cola's attitude when it comes to Branding and Advertising seems to have always been "Go Big or Go Home". The 1970s were a golden age for the brand, thanks to one iconic ad known as the "Hilltop" campaign. The commercial pushed the post-hippie ideals of unity, harmony and peace, while bringing together a chorus of young people to sing that jingle-to-end-all-jingles, "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke."
These sentiments of tradition, nostalgia, and family were echoed over twenty years later with a new series of equally iconic ads, this time set in a much colder climate. The "Northern Lights" campaign for "Always Coca-Cola" have now become a holiday tradition, and the Christmas-themed polar bears sharing an ice cold Coke has become ingrained in our psyches as a December favorite.
But, this image benefits Pepsi just as much as it does Coke. The 1980s birthed “The Pepsi Generation”, which branded Pepsi as the choice for young people tired of tradition and nostalgia, and who yearned for something fresh, hip and new. Pepsi gave these people what they wanted with a bevy of high profile celebrity endorsers, including Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Britney Spears and others. However, Pepsi's adventures in advertising haven't always been without controversy, and there are times when they too have leaned on nostalgia.
Broadly speaking, Pepsi has always seemed to be playing catch-up to Coke in the ad game. Thus, thanks to Coke's "stay the course" mantra, this round goes to them.
Winner: Coke: 2 / Pepsi: 2
Round 5: Worldwide Influence
Today, the Cola Wars are far from over, and both companies still possess a huge amount of interest all over the world.
Coke and Pepsi has always tried to branch out with other products besides sodas, but it's Pepsi that's really run with the idea, especially after acquiring Frito-Lay in 1965. Since then, Pepsi have been in the soda AND snack game, with its vendors delivering everything from Quaker Oats and Tostitos to stores, right alongside their trademarked beverages. This gives Pepsi a ton of variety and name recognition in the market, but also dilutes them as a soda manufacturer somewhat, almost giving the impression that there isn't enough confidence in their main brand to stay the course.
That said, Pepsi sodas are still the drink of choice when it comes to consumers in the U.S. and particularly Canada, where many French-Canadians see Pepsi as a natural beverage of sorts. The company simply can't compete with the Coca-Cola juggernaut when it comes to influence on a global scale, however, as worldwide, people simply prefer Coke as a beverage and a cultural symbol. New Coke didn't kill the brand, nor did The Pepsi Challenge steal all of Coke's customers in one fell swoop.
Ultimately, both brands live side by side, engaged in that endless struggle for market share, with soda drinkers being the only ones who come out on the other end as the victors.
Winner: Coke: 3 / Pepsi: 2
So, do you agree with our pick? To which cola brand do you swear your allegiance? For more tasty versus battles and quench-thirsting content, be sure to check out WatchMojo!