Art & Commerce: A Thirst for Battle

I miss the cola wars. The advertising was better back then. Sure, there’s been good soft-drink commercials lately. The Mountain Dew “cheetah chase” that aired on the Super Bowl, for instance, proved to be quite popular. It’s just the cola ads that have gone flat.
With all due respect to BBDO, which I think boasts one of the best reels in the country, Pepsi ads have been disappointing ever since the “Gotta have it” debacle back in 1992.
That was the client-dictated, omnibus approach that replaced the “Choice of a New Generation” when that positioning was deemed too narrow and exclusionary.
Since then, we’ve seen a number of short-lived campaigns, including “Be young. Have fun. Drink Pepsi,” “Nothing else is a Pepsi” and “Generation Next.”
The most recent Pepsi campaign, “The Joy of Cola” featuring Hallie Eisenberg, does nothing for me. Many viewers like the young actress and find it amusing when her voice turns into Marlon Brando’s so she can threaten someone who hands her a Coke instead of a Pepsi.
BBDO’s Ted Sann explains that the game is no longer Coke vs. Pepsi. It’s about Pepsi vs. everything else in a bottle, hence, the less specific “Joy of Cola” theme. But that campaign seems more like an old Coke strategy to me. Remember “Can’t beat the real thing?”
Meanwhile, as Pepsi tries to find its way, Coke has been all over the map the last few years. I find its current campaign generic and unmemorable. Some ads show hip young adults, dancing, hanging out and having fun. (The “Choice of a New Generation”?) It seems to me Coke and Pepsi have swapped strategies.
As my head was spinning from all the dot.com crap on the Super Bowl, I started to wonder what the reaction would be to a classic Pepsi spot like “Archeology,” one of my all-time favorites.
It’s set in the future, where students are digging for relics at an excavation site. They’re stumped when they come across a dusty Coke bottle. Or what about “Apartment 10-G” starring Michael J. Fox, which showed the extraordinary lengths someone will go for a Diet Pepsi? And who could forget the Mean Joe Greene spot for Coke?
OK, so that commercial would probably be considered too sappy today. But I think it’s safe to say that many of us are ready for good, old-fashioned storytelling ads again.
The most curious and telling sign of how far Pepsi has gone from its previous positioning is the new spot for Pepsi One, which, in an effort to compare the one-calorie soft drink to the taste of a regular cola, showed drinkers unwittingly sipping Pepsi One and Coke Classic. I found that pretty shocking.
Years ago, the folks at Pepsi HQ would have drunk tainted cola before telling consumers that it’s a good thing to taste like Coke.
Yes, there’s been bright spots in recent years. 1996 brought us “Security Camera,” in which a (brilliantly cast) Coke delivery guy is caught on tape grabbing a Pepsi, causing a case of cans to crash down on him. The spot was a huge hit during the Super Bowl. That same year, Pepsi’s “Goldfish” won a gold Lion in Cannes.
I think it’s a testament to the depth and strength of the relationship that Pepsi hasn’t strayed from BBDO since hiring the agency in 1960.
Still, I can’t help wondering what an agency like Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which made milk interesting, would do with Pepsi. K