Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola have been archenemies for over a hundred years. But although their main product is very similar in both taste and color, their branding strategies couldn’t be any further apart.
While Coca Cola has only been modifying their initial logo in a very subtle, almost ninja-like way (there’s been very little, but consistent changes, which only become apparent really when comparing the first one to the latest version), Pepsi instead kept reinventing their logo every bunch of years and have by now a pretty impressive number of “old” logos that would be enough material for almost a year of branding studies.
Let’s have a closer insight at the pros and cons of each strategy.
When Dr. John Stith Pemberton started selling his brand new beverage (Coca Cola) in 1886, it was his bookkeeper who came up with the idea for the now so famous logo and name, by combining the two Cs with his own unique handwriting.
In 1898, Caleb Bradham gave birth to his own creation of similar ingridients (and therefore similar taste and color), initially named it Brad’s drink, but soon renamed it to Pepsi Cola to reflect the actual main ingredients. Interestingly enough, the first 4 generations of logo for the Pepsi beverage have a remarkable resemblance with the one from Coca Cola.
This is where the similarities end. From here on, Coca Cola has been continuously trying to keep up with the changes of time by including interesting slogans, modernizing their can/bottle design in a subtle way and by generally tweaking their brand, without ever trying to reinvent it and/or revolutionize their corporate design.
Pepsi Cola, on the other end, has gone through so many different logos, that the initial concept has absolutely nothing in common anymore with the current one, other than the word “Pepsi”. Even the second part of the name (Cola), that initially was part of the brand, has now disappeared.
So what we have here are two very different approaches for such a long-term brand, and I think Coca Cola seems to have been doing their homework much more accurately than Pepsi. By not changing their logo more than necessary, Coca Cola has achieved to be very consistent in our memory, no matter whether old or young. And if you had a good memory of Coca Cola back when you were young (let’s assume it was long ago), and Coca Cola had been a big part of your life, then this is more or less what you will be thinking about it nowadays when you hear someone mentioning the name ‘Coca Cola’. You’ll remember the red can (or the unforgettable cult bottle), you’ll remember the logo, you’ll remember the distinct taste of it, and it’ll all feel like Coca Cola hasn’t aged a bit. It is still the same feeling it was back then.
Pepsi, on the other hand, is (memory-wise) nothing like it used to be. Although the beverage in itself hasn’t really changed, the logo and the base colors have, in fact the base color has never been the same throughout the world (some countries have always had Pepsi with different base colors). While some of us will remember it as the ‘famous’ blue-red ball (similar to the ying-yang symbol), new generations won’t get this benefit as the logo has changed so much that basically nothing of that blue-red ball is left (somehow it’s still there, but it looks very different).
Pepsi is trying so hard to give the impression they’ve changed, one is actually lead to think the taste has changed as well, thus making their customers wonder if their good old beloved beverage still exists. Of course, that doubt can be quickly put to side by buying one of the new cans and trying out whether this has happened or not, but as we all know, the mind has a big impact on how we feel about something we taste, and we might be left with the impression that the modern beverage contained in those new shiny modern cans with that fancy new logo is, indeed, a newly tasting Pepsi Cola (even though it really isn’t), and with a bit of bad luck, we might not like that self-suggested new taste.
On another note, this shows on a very basic level how the logo itself is not the reason a product is immensely successful. It may emphasize the quality and/or speak to a specific audience you are trying to reach, it may additionally improve the way customers remember a product, it may even make the difference between buying for the first time or rather not doing so, but it will never, under any circumstances, replace the good quality product itself.
What the logo does, is that it makes you connect the memory and the values you have come to know from a product with that portrayed brand. By changing the logo a lot of times, customers are forced to associate new values and new memories with that new logo over and over again. Possibly the reason why Pepsi has still it’s good ol’ shady place hidden behind the much bigger (and more consistent) image of it’s ever so long rival, and winner of the Cola Wars : Coca Cola.