The Coke Pepsi Rivalry



Themes: Advertising and Promotion
Period : 1997-2001
Organization : Coca Cola India Ltd / Pepsi India Ltd
Pub Date : 2001
Countries : India
Industry : Food / Beverages and Tobacco

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Case Code : MKTG002
Case Length : 09 Pages
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The Coke Pepsi Rivalry | Case Study

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The Rivalry on Various Fronts Contd...

When Coke re-entered India, it found Pepsi had already established itself in the soft drinks market. The global advertisement wars between the cola giants quickly spread to India as well. Internationally, Pepsi had always been seen as the more aggressive and offensive of the two, and its advertisements the world over were believed to be more popular than Coke's. It was rumored that at any given point of time, both the companies had their spies in the other camp. The advertising agencies of both the companies (Chaitra Leo Burnett for Coke and HTA for Pepsi) were also reported to have insiders in each other's offices who reported to their respective heads on a daily basis. Based on these inputs, the rival agency formulated its own plans. These hostilities kept the rivalry alive and healthy. However, the tussle took a serious turn at times with complaints to Advertising Standards Council of India, and threats of lawsuits.

While Pepsi always relied on advertisements featuring films stars, pop stars and cricket players, Coke had initially decided to focus on Indian culture and jingles based on Indian classical music. These were also supported by coke advertisements that were popular in the West.

Somehow, Coke's advertisements missed the Indian pulse by a wide margin. Pepsi soon came to be seen as a 'defender' who had humiliated the 'invader' with its superior creative strengths. When Coke bagged the official sponsorship rights to the 1997 Cricket World Cup, Pepsi created media history by unleashing one of the country's most successful advertisement campaigns - the 'Nothing Official About It' campaign . Pepsi took on Coke, even when the latter sponsored the replays of the matches, through the campaign, 'Uncork a Cola.' Media coverage of the war even hinted that the exclusion of Rahul Dravid (Pepsi's model) from the Indian team had something to do with the war. However, Coke had its revenge when it bagged the television sponsorship rights for the 1997 Pepsi Asia Cup. Consequently, Pepsi, in spite of having branded the event was not able to sponsor it.

The severe damage caused by the 'Nothing Official About It' campaign prompted Coke to shift its advertising account from McCann Erickson to Chaitra Leo Burnett in 1997. The 'Eat-Sleep-Drink' series of ads was born soon after. Pepsi responded with ads where cricket stars 'ate a bat' and 'slept on a batting pad' and 'drank only Pepsi.' To counter this, Coke released a print advertisement in March 1998, in which cricketers declared, 'Chalo Kha Liya!' Another Thums Up ad showed two apes copying Pepsi's Azhar and Ajay Jadeja, with the line, 'Don't be a bunder (monkey), Taste the thunder.' For once, it was Pepsi's turn to be at receiving end. A Pepsi official commented, "We're used to competitive advertising, but we don't make fun of the cricketers, just the ad." Though Pepsi decided against suing Coke, the ad vanished soon after the dissent was made public. Commenting on this, a Pepsi official said, "Pepsi is basically fun. It is irreverent and whacky. Our rival is serious and has a 'don't mess with me' attitude. We tend to get away with fun but they have not taken it nicely. They don't find it funny."

Coke then launched one of its first offensive ads, ridiculing Pepsi's ads featuring a monkey. 'Oye! Don't be a bunder! Taste the Thunder', the ad for Thums Up, went with the line, 'issued in the interest of the present generation by Thums Up.'

The 1998 Football World Cup was another event the cola majors fought over. Pepsi organized local or 'para' football matches in Calcutta and roped in Indian football celebrity Bhaichung Bhutia to endorse Pepsi. Pepsi claimed it was the first to start and popularize 'para' football at the local level. However, Coke claimed that it was the first and not Pepsi, to arrange such local games, which Coke referred to as 'pada.'

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