Where Pepsi got it wrong, Coke got it right.


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I’m talking about the soft drink marketers’ uses of Social Media here.

As you may recall, Pepsi was one of the first big-name marketers to aggressively go “all-in” in a Social Media sense, with its much talked-about “Pepsi Refresh Project.” This was a commitment from Pepsi to support worthwhile causes recommended and voted on by its customers and fans. Pepsi used Social Media (primarily Facebook) to elicit suggestions, to “crowd source” the causes (have fans and friends vote on them), and to report news developments.

What gathered a lot of media attention for Pepsi wasn’t so much the program itself, but the fact that Pepsi was pulling back in its traditional media spending in order to fund this program. As it turns out, the brand really didn’t need to cut back much, just the couple of spots it traditionally ran in the Super Bowl.

In the year following “Pepsi Refresh,” Pepsi’s flagship product slipped into third place in the soft drink category (behind Diet Coke). Many Social Media naysayers were quick to blame this slide on Pepsi’s move from mass media to Social Media. While I, for one, don’t think Pepsi’s descent in the cola wars was due to the fact that it didn’t run a couple of Super Bowl spots (more on that in this post), I do think the marketer dropped the ball when it came to defining and managing the “Pepsi Refresh” program. Specifically, I take Pepsi to task for three key reasons:

  1. The focus was more on the “crowd sourcing” part of the program than in the good works themselves. Pepsi seemed to be more interested in social media for social media’s sake rather than dedicated to a specific cause and serving as a catalyst for building a community of fans who also supported it. Social Media is most effective when it is used to amplify a strategy, not become one.
  2. The program didn’t have a clear mission. Instead of focusing on a clear, single goal (for example, fresh drinking water in third-world countries), suggestions from fans were all over the map. Many were geographically limited, so the Pepsi community as a whole would not benefit or see the results. If you’re going to start a movement (which is what Social Media at its best is capable of doing), you need to have a clear, succinct, non-compromising vision of what it is you will do and how specifically your audience can contribute and participate.
  3. The program didn’t treat all community members fairly. The more active you were in Social Media, the more influence you had over the process. There were charges, in fact, of cheating on the part of some charitable entities in order to extort funds from Pepsi. This is not the kind of PR you want.

Contrast what Pepsi did more than a year ago to what Coke is doing now. Coke has teamed with the World Wildlife Fund to help preserve the habitat of the Arctic Polar Bear. Promoted by both mass media and Social Media, this program spells out exactly what the marketer intends to do (donate up to $2 million for Arctic habitat preservation over five years) and how the Coke community can help support (purchase cans and bottle of Coke with the polar bears on it). Simple. Elegant. Easy to understand. Easy to take part in. A cause that is hard to say “no” to. By partnering with WWF, Coke also aligned itself with a an organization which is beyond reproach, giving the program more legitimacy. What’s more, when you see someone drinking a Coke from a polar bear can, you immediately identify him as a fellow Arctic preservationist.

Of course, I do have some issues with this campaign as well. An annual donation of just $500,000 for an organization that has annual sales in the billions is less than a drop in the bucket. Chances are, Coke is spending at least 20 times that amount in paid media promoting this campaign alone. Hey Coke. Don’t be so chintzy. Increase your contributions ten fold.

In case you haven’t seen it, here is the spot Coke is running promoting its Save the Arctic efforts:


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


  1. Good catch, Glenn. That begs another question: does Coke having so many different kinds of products/packages within a small footprint dilute the brand? Offering Diet Decaffeinated Vanilla Coke with Splenda might attract a few extra sales, but what does it do for the brand in the long run>

  2. Personally, I think Coke over-reacted. So a small(?) segment of Coke drinkers was too stupid to know the difference. They shouldn’t have recalled the product. They should have just promoted the difference.

    To your question. I applaud Coke’s diversity. It’s strategy is a long way from Robert Woodruff’s refusal to create other brands that might detract from the flagship. But Woodruff was wrong as the continuing strength of Diet Coke demonstrates. (He also refused to go to a 10 ounce bottle for far too long after Pepsi did.)


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