Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pepsi v. Coke: and the winner is...Dr Pepper

Here's an exchange I've had several dozen times.

Me: "What would you like to drink?"
Customer: "Coke."
Me: "Pepsi okay?"
Customer: "Dr Pepper."

I don't get it!

Okay, I'll admit I grew up in a different part of the country (north of the Mason-Dixon line), and the difference between Pepsi and Coke is negligible to me. Sure, in a side-by-side test, I can taste the sweeter Coke (but prefer Pepsi). But to have such loyalty to a soda? They are almost indistinguishable. Dr Pepper is the outlier.

Now, I can understand loyalty to a regional soda, such as Nehi or Royal Crown or even the old cream sodas, but Pepsi and Coke are international megabrands. An entire movie set in the Kalahari Desert, The Gods Must be Crazy, was built around an old-fashioned Coke bottle. Coca-Cola delivery trucks rumble through the deepest jungles of central America. Siberians know what Coke is. I've seen the logo in Hindi and Arabic.

Brand loyalty is a testament to the marketing skills of these two giants. Taking it one step lower: how is it that perfectly intelligent adults are willing—desperate even in some cases—to go to great inconvenience to pay outrageous prices for water with corn syrup, flavoring, and carbonation? And to claim slavish loyalty to "their" beverage?

Again, I don't get it.


Anonymous said...

It is fascinating that Dr. Pepper has become the DMZ of soft drinks, the Switzerland of soda. The "slavish loyalty" may actually be an unintended result of Coke and Pepsi's respective marketing.

When the "Cola Wars" got underway, Coke and Pepsi began sniping at each other, each enticing their customers into an "us or them" mentality. This confrontational marketing, rather than brining in new customers, tends to solidify your existing customers into rabid zealots.

C.f. Apple vs. Microsoft. The legendary "1984" commercial laid the groundwork for over two decades of "us versus them" mentality. Windows users were generally less rabid than Mac users, and I suspect that's because Apple was doing most of the mudslinging themselves. Linux, meanwhile, became the Dr. Pepper of operating systems: few full-time Mac or Windows users *prefer* Linux, but they can generally accept it as a common ground.

Apple is taking an interesting tact with their new ad campaign. They still present the Mac and the "PC" as competitors, but that competition is now much more friendly, almost buddy-buddy. I wonder if either cola juggernaut is waiting to see how that turns out...

- e

Anonymous said...

All I can say is we Texans do like our cokes...as long as they are Dr. Peppers!