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Brief Updated: 23 May 2019

Pepsi Vs Coke: Who Has the Best Summer ‘19 Campaign?

Coke and Pepsi are embracing new formats, channels and cultural inflection points in a bid to attract young consumers no longer engaged by traditional advertising. But whose approach will win out?

"Buying a 30-second ad to drop into a certain timeframe is not as valuable as it once was," said Stuart Kronauge, senior vice-president of marketing for Coca-Cola North America, in a statement to CNN Business in May 2019. Both Coke and Pepsi are facing up to the challenge of reaching audiences scattered across channels that advertisers find hard to penetrate – most notably, streaming services and social platforms.

Pepsi's answer is to throw everything into engagement on Instagram. The #Summergram campaign is fuelled by 250 augmented reality filters that can be accessed via QR codes on bottles, alongside exclusive Instagrammable Giphy stickers and collaborations with influencers including US pop star DJ Khaled and American author and model Chrissy Teigen. It's a mix of playful, user-generated content and old-school celeb endorsement – a hedging of bets that, as a result, perhaps lacks distinctiveness.

Coke is also using scannable packaging codes to offer consumers the chance to win prizes including tickets to concerts and sports events – nothing particularly groundbreaking here. What's much more interesting, is Coke's partnership with Stranger Things.

The series is a phenomenon – the most popular show amongst Netflix subscribers, according to recent research from Wall Street analysts MoffettNathanson. Season three, dropping on July 4, is set in 1985 – the year Coke released its ill-fated New Coke spin-off. As a tie-in, the company is releasing 500,000 cans of New Coke, based on the original much-hated recipe, via special giveaways and Stranger Things-themed vending machines.

According to Kronauge, the initiative aims to "break the internet" – in much the same way that McDonald's collaboration with US cartoon series Rick and Morty became a pop-cultural talking point (see Pop Culture Round-Up: March 2017 for more). Although Pepsi was first with a nowstalgic product re-launch when it brought back Crystal Pepsi for a limited time in 2016 (see Pop Culture Round-Up: June 2016), Coke's pop culture partnership will likely give the brand the edge over Pepsi in the Summer 2019 cola wars.

For more on the mash-up of media, marketing and retail, check out Media Meets Retail, part of our Dynamic Youth Spotlight.