Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Cola Rivals Are Fighting a Losing Battle

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Cola Rivals Are Fighting a Losing Battle

Article excerpt

The Cola Wars have been raging for more than a century. But the ongoing fight between Coke and Pepsi has always been as much about the period in which each phase ensued as the two warring factions themselves.

At the start of the 20th century, for example, both brands waged war over their medicinal properties. In the 40s it was all about patriotism In the 70s it was about youth. In the 80s it was celebrities and being cool.

The noughties have proved no different. Both Pepsi and Coke have attempted to align their brands to the trends of the era. But this decade is more challenging than most, as Western markets become more interested in healthy products and more natural offerings.

Coca-Cola's latest response is a campaign designed to challenge preconceptions of Coke as an unnatural beverage. The activity, which centres on a 30-second TV ad called 'Pemberton', emphasises that Coke continues to be made to a 122-year-old recipe and is, therefore, free from modern preservatives or flavourings. According to Cathryn Sleight, Coca-Cola GB's marketing director, the campaign originated from a discovery that Coke consumers 'didn't know that it has no added preservatives or artificial flavours. We felt it was important to reassure them'.

Sleight and her team are in a tight spot because of Coke's secret formula. Despite recent seismic changes in consumer tastes, she cannot alter the formulation of Coke in any way. The last attempt to do that in the 80s resulted in marketing disaster. Trapped between a fixed offering on one side and a rapidly changing market on the other, the result is a campaign that will achieve none of its revitalisation objectives. The message that Coke is not as unnatural as one might think, because it has no preservatives is not strong enough to take on the water and fruit drinks that now populate Coke's category. At the same time, pushing the '122-years-old' button is likely to speed up the dustification of Coke's brand appeal.

Things are little better at Pepsi. Coke's ancient rival does have the freedom to fiddle with its formula and has done just that with the launch of Pepsi Raw. Corn syrup has been replaced with lower-calorie cane sugar and a host of natural ingredients have been added to position Pepsi Raw as a more natural, premium beverage. …

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