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  • Paula Braun

Super Bowl and Cola Wars, I Can't Take It Anymore!

Actually, that's a lie. I'm getting a kick out of watching Coke v. Pepsi unfold as the big game approaches. But I couldn't resist riffing off of the lyric “Rock and roller cola wars, I can't take it anymore” from Billy Jole’s We Didn't Start the Fire. Admit it, it's stuck in your head now too #sorrynotsorry.


For those who might not be aware, or who simply don't care, Pepsi is the official soft drink sponsor of Super Bowl LIII. And since Atlanta--hometown of Coke and adopted hometown of moi - is this year's host city, Pepsi has plastered Peachtree Street with billboards that poke fun at the irony of the situation. For example, a few blocks up from my condo, there's a billboard that depicts the Atlanta skyline in an icy grey color (redolent of the “Snowmageddon 2019” that didn't happen this week) overlaid with big official Super Bowl blue letters that say something to the effect of, “Atlanta, thanks for hosting. We'll bring the drinks.”


It's the least amount of Coke advertising I've seen in Atlanta since I first moved here 14 years ago. But last weekend, I came across this ad on my flight back to Atlanta.



Did you notice the football?


When I saw it, it made me laugh. It also made me think. Most people who attend the game tomorrow won't care what sugary soda goes in their cup. And most of the people who are adamant that they prefer one choice over the other couldn't tell the difference between the two products in a blind taste test and might actually prefer the rival.


The Facts Don't Matter, The People Do

Both Pepsi and Coke know that the facts don't matter. We're not hardwired to make decisions by weighing the evidence. Instead, we seek symbols and clues that give us a sense of belonging, amplify our existing world views, and make us feel understood and appreciated.


In this case, both companies are using humor for what it does best: get us to see our flawed assumptions.


If Coke had been the official sponsor, it would have been bad for the cola war because the cola war can't exist without tension. Even if Coke wins every time according to market share, there are enough people who will always chose Pepsi (or will at least choose Pepsi enough of the time) when given a choice. And that number is large enough to keep the rivalry interesting.


Pepsi can use its underdog status to its advantage, because in the good old U. S. of A. we all love a David and Goliath story (unless you're a Goliath who's about to pay a butt load of fines and back taxes and go to prison like Bernie Madoff...or if you're a total slime ball Goliath like Roger Stone...but that's a different blog post altogether).


Coke doesn't need to get defensive. Enough people who see the ad will recognize the Atlanta skyline and immediately associate Coke with the city. Moreover, they'll notice the football and know that it means “we're taking the high road here and are being gracious to our guests...[while we deprive the world of fresh drinking water in order to peddle our diabetes inducing elixir to the masses]”. Ok, they probably leave the part in the brackets off for good reason, but the point is that we are the ones who get to decide what the brand means and stands for.


As you get ready for the big game tomorrow, spend a little time thinking about the choices you make consciously and subconsciously. What influences your decision? Price? Brand loyalty? Whatever's on the end of the aisle? Environmental and social impact?


How many of those choices did you actually make for yourself and how many were already made in advance for you to try to influence you one way or another? How might you deploy similar techniques to try to influence others in a good way?


Don't worry, these questions aren't meant to trigger an existential crisis in your life...or try to get you to boycott your favorite pop...nor are they carte blanche for you to start acting like a reincarnated Rasputin...but they are worth considering.


No matter which team you root for and no matter what beverage you “choose” to drink, it's the people you surround yourself with that matter most.


Go [insert team name here]!

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