Coke vs. Pepsi: The 2021 Cola Wars.

Coke vs. Pepsi


That’s the hiss of an ice-cold Cola, twisting open beneath your nails. As you bring the bottle to your lips, your eyes close—and a wave of carbonated, caffeinated sweetness hits your tongue. Taste buds tingling, you swallow and sigh after that first sip…”ahhhhhh.” 

So refreshing…

But, which brand did you choose—are you a Classic Coke fan, or a Pepsi lover?

Odds are, you’re holding a can of Coke in your hands. How do I know that? Well, we talked to 200 consumers leaving Target, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS last week. And research shows that 51% choose Coke, while 23% would rather drink Pepsi. 

Which soda do you drink the most?

In fact, if you’re 35+, shhh—I won’t tell, you might recall the Cola Wars.

Fought in the 80’s, it was an epic battle of two brands. Both Coke and Pepsi clambered for market share.1 Here’s what went down. Pepsi won a bunch of blind taste tests. They famously shared the results in the Pepsi Challenge campaign.

And, for a short time, beat Coke in sales. Coke countered with “New Coke”, then quickly back-peddled as they faced angry Americans.

Now, it’s 2021. Suddenly soda consumption is hot again—made possible by the pandemic. So, let’s take a look at the two brands, see what’s changed, and who’s on top.

Fact #1: Soda use is up, because of the pandemic.

For 14 years, soda dropped every year in use.2 COVID-19 changed that. So, why are consumers drinking soda again? Well, it turns out when people are stuck at home, old habits return.3

We found that 84% are drinking more—or the same, amount of soda since the pandemic started. Not only that, they’re planning their purchases ahead of time. While energy drinks are an impulse purchase—convenience stores leading in sales—that’s just not the case with soda. 😉

Most (78%) buy their favorite soda at grocery stores and 74% at big-box retailers. This indicates a more planned purchase. So, why are sales up? 

Where do you buy soda?

Simple. Drinks with high sugar content are perceived as an indulgence.4 And, we already know that consumers are welcoming a little more luxury in their lives, right now. So, it makes sense that they’d reach for a comforting can of Coke, to cool down the stress of COVID-19. 

Fact #2: It’s the perfect time for TV ads.

Picture this.

It’s the end of a busy day. You’re at home…about to turn on the TV. And, if you’re like 89% of people, now is the time you’ll reach for a Coke or Pepsi. With an overwhelming majority preferring to enjoy their favorite drink at home, it’s no surprise that Cola is a lifestyle product.

So, what?

Well, that’s important for at-home advertising, which is the dominant marketing strategy here. We asked, and TV is where 76% remember seeing Coke and Pepsi ads. This also aligns with their ability to remember the ads, with 71% saying Coke has memorable commercials.

Where do you usually hear/see Coke ads?

Now, put Americans at-home more because of a pandemic—and it’s easy to see why Cola use is up.

If you’re in the retail or soda business, here’s your chance to advertise. You’ve got a more captive audience than ever before, and they’re clearly increasing consumption—of TV and of soda. It’s a match made in heaven for marketers. This is the time to increase your ads.

Fact #3: 71% say Coke beats Pepsi.

It starts with caffeine. 

A primary reason you love that brown, bubbly beverage is the buzz it brings. And 77% say Coke gives them a bigger caffeine boost. Ironic, actually, because Pepsi has more caffeine in it.5 But hey, that’s the power of perception. Score 1 to Coke.

Taste is a close second. At 71%, Coke is the clear winner of the tastebud category. That’s 2 for Coke. But, here’s the truth. A full 50% say Coke is sweeter—they’re wrong. Pepsi is.5 In the Cola Wars, Pepsi outperformed Coke over and over again1— with more sugar and a sweeter sip. Yet in 2021, we end up with Coke: 3, Pepsi: 0

71% say Coke beats Pepsi.

Taste is why Pepsi beat Coke back in the original Cola Wars.

Is it time to bring back the Pepsi Challenge?

Amid the pandemic, PepsiCo has fared far better than its rival.5 

With restaurants, movie theaters, and sports stadiums closed, Coca-Cola’s sales dropped 28%. Meanwhile, PepsiCo’s sales have stayed flat—kept afloat by loyal Frito-Lay snackers.

COVID-19 has created an even playing field. 

If there was ever a time for Pepsi to double down on advertising and try to get ahead, it’d be right now. This is the first time we’ve seen consumption increase for Cola in 14 years. The marketplace is primed for a change and with the right messaging, anything is possible. For more research, contact us

Find the answers to these and more questions on MFour Studio!




By Maksym Minin

Reviewed by Urielle Corcuera

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