• What Ever Happened to the Pepsi Generation?

    by  • November 20, 2011 • Branding, Leadership, Marketing, Strategy

    NATM_512x288The concept of a Pepsi advertising campaign designed to capture America’s youth had its roots in the 1960’s. But it wasn’t until the 1980’s that “The Choice of a New Generation” struck 14-24 year olds like a social tsunami. Michael Jackson, the theme to “Billie Jean” and a phenomenal blend of marketing and entertainment drove the Pepsi brand to the pinnacle of contemporary culture. Coca-Cola was so taken aback by the success that they made a colossal error in judgment. They abandoned their century-old recipe and launched “New Coke”. The result was disastrous. It looked like Pepsi had won the Cola War. But they had won only a battle.

    Pundits attribute Coca-Cola’s rebound to the reintroduction of Coke Classic and better marketing and advertising. My view is that Pepsi shot themselves in the foot. They either took their eye off the core business when they ventured into other beverages or were lured into change for change’s sake. On the corporate front, shareholders welcomed the expansion of the portfolio that included Lipton Ice Tea, Gatorade, Starbuck Frappuccino, Dole & Tropicana Juices, Aquafina, and SoBe. These beverages plus snacks and other acquisitions substantially added to PepsiCo’s bottom line and market cap. That said, the core cola business continues to erode in a US market that has declined for six consecutive years.

    Make no mistake; the Pepsi-Cola brand is still big business. So, what are Pepsi’s marketers doing to revitalize it?  Seemingly they believe that a return to comparative advertising is the way to go. I don’t think so. We have the Pepsi trucker meeting the Coke trucker and a pair of spots that poke fun at Coke icons, polar bears and Santa Claus. I suspect those who may respond to these commercials are in their 40’s – that’s the age of those who couldn’t get enough of Michael Jackson and “The Choice of a New Generation” in the 1980’s.

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    Formerlife: Jacobs Suchard CEO (Kraft, Nabob), Strategy Consultant. Afterlife: Palgrave Macmillan Author, Historical Novelist, Business Journalist

    5 Responses to What Ever Happened to the Pepsi Generation?

    1. Alan Kay
      November 21, 2011 at 5:08 am

      John, the Pepsi taste-test campaign grew share of mind when it came out. However, it woke up Coke who were forced to look beyond their advertising and instead at their operational strategy. Coke took cost out of distribution, re-focused and kept winning the distribution share battle. The Pepsi Challenge was an interesting marketing case, but not a big business case success. The return to the Challenge suggests a fondness for nostalgia in the Pepsi camp.

    2. John
      November 21, 2011 at 7:20 am

      Your reference to winning the distribution game is reminiscent of Anheuser Busch and Budweiser. Most people think that great advertsising is the number one KFS (key factor for success) in the American beer business. For AB it is not. The name of the game is distribution leverage. And AB had all the synergies, efficiencies and clout that #2 and #3 could never match. Thanks for pointing out the Pepsi Challenge – good for the head, but in my view, Pepsi Generation owned the heart of the target.

    3. srp
      November 25, 2011 at 12:02 am

      In my memory, jingles were critical pieces of both Coke and Pepsi brand communication. The Pepsi Generation was first and foremost (in it’s original incarnation) a good song, and a set of music videos that conveyed a lifestyle promise. (Before that, Pepsi had a thirst-quenching pitch with “Taste that beats the others cold,” also a solid jungle.) Coke’s very effective riposte to The Pepsi Generation was the I’d Like to Teach The World To Sing, also embodied in a song.

      There seems to be an entrenched resistance to using essentially music video techniques along with high-quality jingles among today’s marketers–they seem to believe that a purpose-written advertising song would inherently be too hokey for a sophisticated modern audience, and prefer to associate their product with pieces of unrelated popular music. (Apple did this very well with its iPod ads, but of course that’s a product all about popular music.)

      I’m not so sure. A modern jingle could be much more allusive or even ironic than the direct propaganda of yesteryear while still tapping the power of music to
      convey emotion and fix memory. At least that’s my hypothesis. I don’t know if anyone would have the guts to try it even if they thought it might work, though.

      • John
        November 25, 2011 at 11:55 am

        Thanks for your view, srp. I’m not one for promoting the rebirth of the jingle. That said, I’m pretty sure Coke will get good traction out of replaying “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” this Christmas. The jingle stands the test of time and continues to tug at the human heartstings. What could be better for a brand. My beef is the lack of strategic focus and consistency in today’s brand advertising. The rationale for wishy-washy strategic management is less brand mentoring by seasoned strategists.

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