soda wars: cocacola and pepsi - the spark youth empowerment platforms in nigeria

The Soda Wars: Coke vs Pepsi


The World Cup pulls billions of views every four years and is arguably the biggest sporting event in the world. Footballers, sports enthusiasts and fans across the world are joined in the drama by brands looking to build affinity and upstage all others in the battle for audience attention. Coca-Cola and Pepsi are two of these brands and probably, the most enjoyable participants in the brand wars. We look at the marketing tactics they have deployed to win the battle for the hearts of Nigerians this World Cup season.

– By Damilola Oyewusi

If you are not familiar with the brand war between Coke and Pepsi, you need to set an hour or two aside after reading this article and let YouTube serve you some of the most outrageous videos you’d ever see from corporate brands. For centuries, the soda showdown between the soft drinks giants has cut across all spheres of marketing, from pricing to promotion. They’ve found ways to tug at customers’ heartstrings, entertain them, excite them and make them exchange currency for their cola drinks.

This rivalry has been especially interesting to see during the World Cup season, with Coke being an official sponsor and Pepsi going all out to show that there are other ways to the hearts of paying consumers. In 2010, Coca Cola’s ‘Waving Flag’ campaign song was challenged by Pepsi’s ‘Oh Africa’, a charity song with obvious football references released in January 2010 just before the World Cup in South Africa. And in 2014, while Coke deployed its “largest marketing programme” ever, Pepsi launched a global TV campaign in more than 100 countries, with a digital version that viewers could interact with and gain a closer look into the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

The 2018 World Cup campaign started months before the kick-off, and if you’ve missed the drama, here’s a taste of what has been going down between the two in Nigeria.


Coca-Cola Nigeria

In the build-up to the World Cup in Russia, Coca-Cola kicked off its campaign with the signature ‘Coca-Cola World Cup trophy tour’, starting from the Federal Capital Territory and ending with a concert in Lagos. The company, an official sponsor of the FIFA World Cup since 1978, gave out free tickets to Nigerians to see the coveted trophy. One of the contests was a captivating social experiment asking people what they could do to win the ticket. The videos showing Nigerians hugging strangers and becoming bus conductors were hilarious and engaging. Next, they gave an opportunity for 22 Nigerians to go ‘To Russia with Coke’, using the ‘code under bottle cover’ method, a definite way to increase sales while driving engagement.

Coca-Cola also secured official sponsorship of the Super Eagles. Riding on this, the company is leveraging its extensive access to the team, hosting Instagram Live sessions and releasing a range of Super Eagles Coke bottles with a call for Nigerians to ‘Share a Coke with our Eagles’. The campaign came with a Television Commercial starring the Super Eagle, William Troost-Ekong, and tells a great story of the unrelenting spirit of Naija as a young Nigerian boy kept searching for a Coke bottle with Ekong’s name on it. He finally gets one when he finds Ekong on a training pitch.

So far, Coca-Cola seems to be milking its sponsorship as much as it can. Positioning its soda as the preferred drink of the Super Eagles will most likely pay off at the grassroots level as people hunt for bottles with an Eagle’s name on it.

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Pepsi Nigeria

As a non-sponsor, Pepsi went guerrilla with their promotional activities, launching a campaign only two weeks to the start of the World Cup. Instead of World Cup logos and trademarked assets, the company enlisted its retinue of entertainment and sports ambassadors, including five key members of the Super Eagles and the legendary Jay-Jay Okocha. Without a mention of the World Cup or the Super Eagles, Pepsi continued its ethos of engaging its audience with a relatable pop culture-themed advert. The colors stayed blue, the football references were obvious without being amplified, and the chest thumps evoked a spirit of patriotism that every Nigeria would relate to as the National Anthem get sung before every Nigerian game.

The campaign was extended with photo cards of the stars and a phrase to celebrate the ‘Naija Spirit’. From making local global to the making of legends, Wizkid, Jay-Jay Okocha, Tekno and many more recognizable faces have shown their support for the Eagles without a mention of anything football related.

To sustain the campaign, the Pepsi team released a meme template for Nigerians to generate their own personalized card to ‘Rep the Naija Spirit’. This started out with the stars of the video showcasing theirs on Instagram, reaching millions of Nigerians who are always ready to be a part of a cool trend, especially one that celebrates Naija. They have also released a series of Emoji’s that can be downloaded on their website, while subtly launching special edition bottles with the faces of their ambassadors on them.

In all this, it is noteworthy that Pepsi has not infringed on the copyright laws and guidelines set by the world footballing body. While these rules were placed to protect the official partners and sponsors, they have proven to be bendable by the creative genius of non-sponsors like Pepsi.

Overall, there are absolutely no complaints from the fans and football enthusiasts. Both brands have shown that the fight for a larger market share goes beyond statistics and the product itself to consumer relationships and emotional connections. It is marketing at its best and we are here for it.

Would you rather ‘Share a Coke with our Super Eagles’ or ‘Go with Naija all the way’?


Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.


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