Coke vs. Pepsi: The Cola Wars Hit YouTube

YouTube is where culture for brands is being born. It’s also where culture is archived for later generations to rediscover and make their own. In the realm of brand competitions, the Coke vs. Pepsi rivalry, dubbed the Cola Wars, has left a mark on the consumer public psyche unlike most marketing campaigns. So, we decided to run the numbers and see how the two soft-drink giants stack up on the biggest social video platform and what it means for any brand marketer trying to measure up to their competitors.

The Original Pepsi Challenge

In 1975, Pepsi began its “Pepsi Challenge” marketing campaign, conducting blind taste tests. The results? A majority chose Pepsi over Coke, and the world soon became familiar with TV ads proclaiming Pepsi victorious in the taste-test challenge. Thanks to the fans on YouTube, these ads live on, preserving the culture that existed during the height of the Cola Wars. Here is an early ad from 1979, uploaded by user MrClassicAds1970s:

And here’s one from 1981 showing the test in action:

As the campaign spread, Pepsi steadily made gains on Coke’s market share. By 1983, Pepsi was outselling Coke, and Coke was left scrambling to respond. Of course, as we all know by now, after a failed “New Coke” experience, Coca-Cola eventually returned their focus to their classic brand taste and image and came out on top despite the Pepsi Challenge results, a paradox that many authors have explored.

Using ZEFR’s BrandID tech, we ran a search for videos specific to the Pepsi Challenge campaign, and here’s what we found:

pepsi challenge data on youtube


Social Video: How the Fans Keep the Fight Alive

While the official “Pepsi Challenge” campaign has been retired, the fans on YouTube have always been, and will continue to be, fighting it out amongst themselves. You can see this happening in various ways, whether its fans conducting their own taste tests, or fans hashing it out under the videos in the comments section.

Here is a particularly nuanced analysis from one fan, who ends his video by asking his audience to tell him which soft drink they prefer:

“…But that’s just me. What’s your drink of choice? Is it Coke? Is it Pepsi? Root Beer? Mountain Dew? Sprite?…. let me know in the comments section below, because I actually respond.”

And here are some of the comments he received:

pepsi vs coke youtube comments

pepsi vs coke youtube comments

We ran another search, this time focusing on fan videos conducting their own taste tests, outside the context of the official “Pepsi Challenge.”

coke vs pepsi taste test youtube


Why The Fans Are the Ultimate Winners

As hinted at above, Coke has not surprisingly led the way in terms of overall presence on YouTube, both in terms of official content and fan content. The numbers only support this assertion.

coke vs pepsi data on youtube


A Matter of Taste

The most important takeaway here is the realization that the culture around both Coke and Pepsi is continually being shaped by the fans. Fan videos dominate the conversation, taking up 84 percent of the total views, creating an honest, highly authentic world of content where opinions are welcomed and encouraged. When it comes to choosing a favorite brand, people are asked to decide for themselves. No official brand campaign can control the message, it can only hope to help shape it, or at least point it in a preferable direction. But with YouTube, the audience has evolved in a manner that requires brands to be authentic, lest the brand be called out for dishonesty. Anything less than “the real thing” is just another marketing ploy to a shrewd YouTube audience. Listen to the fans, and they will drive your success on YouTube.


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