'How Pepsi Won The Cola Wars' : Arun Bhatia Delves Deeper Into The Race For 'Cola Supremacy'

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'How Pepsi Won The Cola Wars' : Arun Bhatia Delves Deeper Into The Race For 'Cola Supremacy'

A highly insightful take on ‘The other guy blinked’, a book by Roger Enrico.

“Actually, the Coke Pepsi war has been going on ever since Coca Cola declined, in 1933, to buy out its puny rival Pepsi Cola” writes Arun Bhatia.

The ongoing ad war between the telecommunication giants is getting snarky. On issues such as data packaging and tariffs, these telecom biggos say ‘free means free’ and ‘ab toh sahi chuno’ and exchange salvos, repartees and squelch each other. This has no doubt increased the circulation and ad revenues of newspapers.

The clever wordings bring to mind the corporate war between two that were/are making and marketing sugared water: on the one hand the giant Coca Cola and on the other hand Pepsi.

“The other guy blinked’ is a book of Roger Enrico written in 1986 and tells the story of a soft drink upset - ‘Coke’s colossal blunder,’ and covers events between 1983 -1986. I re-read the book (The Other Guy Blinked-How Pepsi Won the Cola Wars by Roger Enrico Bantam Books (IBD) 1986 280 pp Paperback Rs.65), and observed how the 30 year story smacks of the here and now.

Corporate executives read such books as also those on naval and other strageries of warfare, equating the battlefield of the marketplace. Even Mao Tse Tung’s treatise on guerilla tactics are on corporate bookshelves.

The book’s title ‘The Other Guy Blinked’ takes its cue from another competitive battle – the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Krushchev had just then backed down, and it was Dean Rusk who said to President Kennedy that they were “going at it eyeball to eyeball, and the other guy just blinked.”

The ‘blink’ in the cola episode was when Coke – a 100 year old company - called a press conference on April 23,1985 in New York to announce that the legend Coke, king of soft drinks, would no longer be produced. Responding to Pepsi challenge, Coca Cola launched a new drink with a new taste, but the drink would have the old name.

The focus of this book is the ‘blink’- changing the age old successful formula of Coke -, the perspective within which it took place, and the events that led to it. As also the adverse reactions like the one of a Kansas newspaper editor William Allen, who expressed regret at the ‘blink’ asking how could that do such a thing? He wrote: “Coca Cola is the sublimated essence of all that America stands for. A decent thing, honestly made and universally distributed.”

The change of formula had caused a public furore, and Coke executives admitted that it was a mistake. Within six months, the old coke formula was restored and called Classic Coke.

Actually, the Coke Pepsi war has been going on ever since Coca Cola declined, in 1933, to buy out its puny rival Pepsi Cola. The book essentially begins with Roger Enrico entering as the new President of Pepsi in 1983, his uncertain start, and launching of the first in a series of advertising campaigns that brought about Coke’s blink.

Long before the blink, Pepsi had been gaining ground in the ad wars. There had been a head to head taste test called the Pepsi Challenge, with a counter called the Coke Challenge. On November 11,1983, at the age of 39, Enrico signed the most expensive celebrity advertising contract in history –U.S.$5 million (today’s $11.5 million) for two commercials and a sponsored tour featuring a shy black American, Michael Jackson, who sang a high pitched voice and danced backwards.

Says Enrico:”A lot of people thought I was nuts. The ammunition we fire at one another in the Cola wars is damn silly stuff. But for all that our battles are very real.”

Enrico had cleverly interpreted Coke’s blink not as a rival introducing a new product but simply reacting to the Pepsi taste superiority by pulling Coke off the market. Then he thrust this twist of viewpoint home by by timing his media blitz to coincide with Coke’s press conference. Pepsi tom tommed in a newspaper ad that Coke was reformulated to be “more like Pepsi.”

By all accounts, the race for Cola supremacy was a dead heat, and as Enrico says the cola wars are on. “Will we make it? Stay tuned.”

Arun Bhatia  is a resident of Bengaluru and an avid reader, writer, and photographer. He has also modeled in TV commercials.

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