The soda world is topsy-turvy: Diet Coke now outsells Pepsi. A former Coke marketer explains the meaning of the upheaval.
Recently Ad Age reported that for the first time Diet Coke has supplanted Pepsi as the number-two-selling soft drink. This news represents a major soda industry upheaval and is cataclysmic psychological news to PepsiCo.
Soft drink marketers are a proud bunch. Full disclosure: I was the marketing director for Coca-Cola and Diet Coke during the 1980s and previously served as the senior brand manager for Michelob at Anheuser-Busch. Soda marketers wear their brands on their sleeves like a badge of honor, and will protect and nurture them at all costs. So the typical industry reaction to a defeat such as this is emotionally charged.
Perhaps Pepsi should inhale deeply and take a page from the beer business.
Analogous to the epic battles between Coke and Pepsi, the Beer Wars of the '70s and '80s were defined by leading brewer Anheuser-Busch pitted against rival Miller Brewing Company. While Budweiser reigned supreme as the King of Beers, Miller High Life had climbed to become the second most popular beer by 1977. "Miller Time" served as the anthem for all working-class Americans. It was real beer for real men. Today, Miller High Life has disappeared from the best-selling list as four of the top five beer brands today are now "lite" beers, with Anheuser's Bud Lite leading the pack with a 21.4 percent market share. Even the venerable Budweiser has been demoted to a distant number two at 8.9 percent.