Dr. Pepper vs. Pepsi

I recently came across some business news that surprised me. Dr. Pepper has surpassed Pepsi as the #2 soda brand in the country. While both brands own 8.3% of the soda market, Dr. Pepper obviously won the coin flip and has claimed Pepsi’s silver medal. Coca-Cola is comfortably #1 with 19.2% of the soda market.

From a personal standpoint, this news is bittersweet to me. Dr. Pepper is my favorite soda but Pepsi holds sentimental value. Growing up, we were a Pepsi family. Although my parents only let my siblings and me drink soda on a special occasion basis, it was usually with a Pepsi when those times presented themselves. I also fondly remember my grandpa stocking his fridge with Pepsi from his restaurant when my family visited.

Dr. Pepper is my favorite soda but I also have an emotional to Pepsi.

Because of this emotional connection, I have rooted for the brand over the years, even if I would choose a Dr. Pepper if given the choice. In fact, I have always approved of Pepsi’s marketing strategy. In my mind, Pepsi rightfully selected a modern, pop culture-based strategy to counter Coke’s nostalgic approach. Think “Pilk” and A-list celebrities vs. polar bears and “classic” messaging.

My daughter drinks “Pilk,” a combination of Pepsi and milk that the soda giant embraced as a way to be relevant and in-touch with the country.

But perhaps Pepsi has never fully evolved from the 1980s Cola Wars to equip itself to compete against other formidable competitors. The story of Dr. Pepper’s ascension from a small regional Southern product to a national powerhouse brand is pretty impressive. How did the company do it? Well, as a marketer, you know what my first reason would be. Strategic marketing decisions, such as partnerships with college football/ESPN and its wildly successful “Fansville” advertising campaign, endeared the brand to a sports-obsessed country. However, I think there is something else prominently at play that can explain the soda shift. Dr. Pepper simply offers a product that is distinctly different from cola. In a society that values variety and has embraced “dirty soda” drinks, DP is uniquely positioned at this point in our country’s history to replace Pepsi as #2.

It’s not like Pepsi isn’t trying when it comes to its marketing. Campaigns to partner with other brands like the Pepsi x Peeps contest are creative but they don’t necessarily directly respond to the threat that Dr. Pepper poses.

The question now is this: Will Sprite (8.1%) leapfrog Pepsi as well? I think the answer is no—at least not in the next year. With Pepsi’s recent demotion to #3, I think it will serve as a wake up call to shift the focus back to its flagship brand and perhaps be more aggressive in its marketing to directly compete against Dr. Pepper.

What soda are you going to put in your shopping cart this summer? If you choose either Pepsi or Dr. Pepper, because of razor-thin margins, chances are that you’re helping decide who seizes the #2 spot in the soda market. Don’t Blink.

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