Listen. I never asked to be your trusty soda correspondent. Don’t you think I’d like to write about something other than Coca-Cola? Do you think I enjoy dunking on Pepsi for no good reason, in a blog that has nothing to do with soft drinks? Yes! No! I should have worded these questions differently!
But I am a marketer, and this is my job. To inform you, Joaquin Q. Public, about the latest ongoings and goings on in the world of advertising. And for reasons I shall never fully understand, the universe has ~elected~ to put me on the soda-pop beat.
So here we are again, and it’s my sad duty to make you watch this:
Followed by this:
All in hopes of making you ask just what the hell is going on.
It’s a little weird, right? It’s like how ten years ago we were all just minding our own business and suddenly there were TWO Truman Capote biopics. What, America wondered, could possibly explain such a strange and striking coincidence of thought?
To get to the bottom of things, I decided to call Duane Stanford, the executive editor of Beverage Digest. I wanted to know why on earth two rival soda companies would move forward with such similar campaigns. Isn’t there a big risk of brand confusion?
“There’s not a whole lot, no,” said Stanford. “Parallel campaigns actually happen fairly often between these companies, just because it’s such an incredibly competitive category. And right now, there’s so much new competition that Pepsi and Coke are both struggling to stay top of mind.”
Energy drinks, sports drinks, bottled water, protein-enhanced fruit juice—consumers have more beverage options than ever. Even for juggernauts like Coke and Pepsi, that’s an awful lot of competition to keep an eye on. What’s more, said Stanford, both cola titans are seeing the same data, and reaching the same conclusions.
“What happens with these companies is that they’re both seeing the same research. And what that research is telling them is that consumers respond well to associations between cola and food,” said Stanford. “The purpose of those commercials is to cross-promote with food, first and foremost. It’s less about selling the particular brand. The brand marketing, the real hand-to-hand combat, gets the most intense in retail store aisles.”
That’s right—you might think you’re choosing that Diet Coke Lime of your own free will, but in that moment of decision, when you’re standing before the grocery display? You’re being bombarded by every marketing trick in the book.
“Floor displays, extended retail displays, in-store discounts, they’re all part of a strategy to get consumers to change their minds there on the sales floor,” said Stanford. “When Walmart has a promotion where you get a two-liter soft drink with a take-home pizza, that’s because of their marketing partnerships with Coke or Pepsi.”
Parallel campaigns happen, in other words, because you don’t really make your purchasing decisions while watching TV, or while scrolling through Instagram. Coke and Pepsi can both reference the same studies and respond with similar campaigns because their only goal is to remind you that soda goes pretty dang well with all your favorite foods. And if they say that often enough, you’ll take that categorical preference with you to Aisle 5, and that’s when they’ll hit you with the big guns to push you toward a particular brand.
So the next time you half-remember a commercial but can’t quite recall the brand it was for? That might actually be by design. Just don’t forget the trusty correspondent who gave you this inside scoop.