The world cup brand wars: Coke and Pepsi takes their eternal feud to the pitch


by Toyin Henry-Ajayi

While organizers of the world cup, football teams, and their fans across the world prepared for the FIFA World Cup in Russia, corporate organizations were also in the planning room getting ready to deploy an arsenal of marketing materials to win the hearts of their consumers.

The opportunities for official partnerships and sponsorship with the world footballing body are limited. There is a high barrier to entry and the deals are usually long term.

Coca-Cola, for example, became an official partner in 1978 and has an extended deal till 2030. With the numbers of viewers rising every four years, there is a likelihood that this will further be extended.

This leaves a company like Pepsi, the arch-rival to Coca-Cola with the onus of creating marketing campaigns that tie in easily with the World cup without infringing on the rights of the official soft drink sponsor of the tournament. The brand battle that comes from this is always a delight for any marketing professional to watch.

In Nigeria, for example, both companies have carried on with their history of the rivalry. The official sponsor, Coca-Cola began its campaign by bringing the World Cup trophy on a tour in the country, as it traditionally does in every country represented in the world cup. The tour was promoted with a cheeky campaign that saw Nigerians take on funny tasks like becoming a bus conductor and hugging strangers on the streets. It was a hit; hilarious and engaging.

This was followed up by a campaign to take 22 Nigerians ‘To Russia with Coke’ and then the release of the special edition bottles asking Nigerians to ‘Share a Coke with our Super Eagles’. It came with a heartwarming video of a young Nigerian boy’s unrelenting search for a Coke bottle with William Ekong’s face on it. While the storyline was interesting, the advert seemed to gain momentum when Pepsi launched its ‘Naija all the way’ campaign and the comparison started.

Pepsi’s ‘Naija all the way’ television commercial could easily pass for another lifestyle and pop culture campaign that the brand is known for. But it is filled with all the right elements to sway emotions during a world cup season. It has the celebrities, all Pepsi ambassadors that included Super Eagle players and Jay Jay Okocha. It has bright colors and it has an easy beat to flow with. But the most important ingredient is the sense of pride and patriotism it carries. Nigerians can relate to it and Nigerians want to share it on their pages, to be a part of something great and to get their friends to do the same. The campaign also came with a package of meme templates and emojis that wants Nigerians to ‘Rep the Naija Spirit’. To square up with the other cola, the team has also released a special edition of bottles, carrying the faces of its ambassadors.

What’s not to love?

In comparing both brands, it has to be said that they both have a way with marketing strategies. Coca-Cola has infused its brand name and product in the crux of its campaign. For every time it is talked about, there is a mention of Coke. The theme of the spirit of Nigeria may not have been striking in their adverts but the craze to have a coke bottle with a face of a player on it is still alive and winning. It does look apparent that the Coke team is highly concerned about ROI and are keen on direct ways to marry sales with engagement.

However, the Pepsi campaign has evoked more emotion and conversation from all Nigerians. Without a mention of the World Cup or related terms, they’ve sold a spirit of patriotism and gave a world cup phrase that sticks – ‘Naija all the way’.

When it comes to who wins between these two, we’d have to ask what the campaign goal was to either of them. For Nigerians, it is possible to grab a coke with a favorite member of the super eagles while still yelling Naija all the way. The spirit of Naija will always be unparalleled regardless of what soft drink you hold while watching the Eagles on the field.

The world cup still has a few weeks to go. It would be interesting to see what other birds these brands have yet to release.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Toyin Henry-Ajayi is a marketing and advertising expert who loves to share insight and experiential knowledge with marketing professionals, enthusiasts and businesses.

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