Sanjeev Kotnala: The Story Of Coke’s Polarised Diversity & Pepsi Generations

14 Feb,2018

By Sanjeev Kotnala


This Super Bowl, the two cola giants; Pepsi and Coke communication remained tethered to their DNA and polarised interpretation of audience.  “When all’s said and done, all roads lead to the same end. So it’s not so much which road you take, as how you take it” said Charles de Lint.

The campaigns depict the joys of gulping with a differentiating reason. It puts a quote from Gandhiji in a new perspective.  “The various campaigns (religion) are like different roads converging on the same point. What difference does it make if we follow different routes, provided we arrive at the same destination?”

The brands picked up what they consider strategically the best before whole heartily backing it.  “Marketing (Life) is a journey that must be travelled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations,” said, Oliver Goldsmith.

The tonality of Pepsi and Coke communication represents the DNA they have built for the brand. An investment in time, effort and money that is now chaining them to the past. They can’t take another leap of creative faith towards unknown. In the dark, narrow alley of insight mining, their creative vision is blinded by past representation and a need to not mend till it breaks.

They have an empire at stake. It disarms the brand from experimentation and risk of failure. The two brands do experiment sporadically with geographical-centric content. They keep digging for the universal truth to speak the same language across the contextually shrinking global village.

‘Serving Diversity’ and ‘claim of a generation’ are two sides of the same coin. A cause-effect situation or chunking up and down the argument.

Give it a moment and see the magic in these messages.

“We all have different looks and loves, likes and dislikes, too… But there’s a Coke for we and us. And there’s a Coke for you.”  Lyrics from The Wonder of Us- TVC aired with Super Bowl 2019. It is first of the expected many TVCs in ‘A Coke for Everyone’ series).


“This is the Pepsi that your father drank, and his father drank before he met your grandmother… This is the Pepsi for this model and his mom… This is the Pepsi for every generation…. celebrating every generation… Pepsi.”  lyrics from “Celebrating Generation,” TVC aired during Super Bowl 2018.

Pepsi tries using icons, celebrities and clips from earlier communication referencing past generations. The TVC includes Cindy Crawford, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Jeff Gordon, the “Uncle Drew” character and DeLorean Time machine.

The TVCs from Pepsi and Coke show a montage of shots and efforts in naming them. They beautifully brand them with a hint of strategic thought behind the campaign. While Coke calls it ‘The Wonder of us’ and ‘A Coke for everyone’ series, Pepsi uses a bland ‘Celebrating generation’ and ‘This is Pepsi’.

Many will assign Coke ‘inclusivity in diversity’, and Pepsi will be seen still using a manufacturer’s statement to ‘brand’ yet another generation.

Coke promises ‘A coke for everyone and every occasion’ mixed with optimism, diversity and inclusion. It serves a range from a mini can of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar- glass bottle – can –Life and more.

Mathematically speaking, if 1+1+1 + …. +nth term ≤ N and you apply it to fragment Coke message of ‘A Coke for everyone’ on one side,  summing it, you get the Pepsi idea of representing every generation; including this one on the other side.

Pepsi is celebrating its spirit and remaining the choice of a new (every) generation. Chad Stubbs, Vice President, Marketing, Pepsi Trademark, North America in a statement said: “2018 will be a year to celebrate the past while embracing the future; always reminding consumers to do what they love and have a little fun in their lives”.

How overlapping can the two brands be?

I am not sure if it is about ‘Great Minds Think Alike’ but am sure that in the global context, they need to reboot insight mining and the subsequent creative leap.

Must compliment Pepsi for persisting to brand generations and remaining anchored to pop culture, music and sports. However, it seems blind to an apparent truth; the audience no longer appreciates anyone branding them. And Pepsi references itself as the choice of an earlier generation. It is like a self-goal.

See their earlier attempt of NEXT, PEPSI and ABHI generation.


Coke wants the audience to think of it as a modern brand, justifying the fragmented market in the format and products it serves. It thus remains inclusive and differentiated. Everyone is unique, and hence everyone can and should be celebrated. An undercurrent of statement keeps the unifying thread loosely hanging with the ‘One Brand Visual Identity’.

Coke communication DNA remains fortified in diversity and being approachable.

See the series of Coke famed ads ‘HILLTOP’ or ‘Its Beautiful’ spot. In case of India, see the  TVCs celebrating the message in an engaging creative. ‘Thanda Matlab coke’ using Aamir Khan as a Villager, Japanese, Jat, and Nepali.


In the end, it is true that Beauty lies in the eyes of the Beholder. And “When all’s said and done, all roads lead to the same end. So it’s not so much which road you take, as how you take it”.

These brands are iconic in their appeal and engagement with youth. The iconic status makes them work harder but also builds in complacency constrained by the DNA of choices made many campaigns back.  The trendsetters are warped in chaos of shifting consumer taste. Why should repacked thoughts served fresh give differential results? Or it does not really matter, what the communication is. Time to wake up.


PS: I speak a common man’s language that is ‘Reality Adulterated with Reality’ and do not claim to have solutions to issues I might raise.



















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