Outrageous Acts of Marketing: What Demand Generation Marketers can Learn from the Super Bowl Cola Wars

February 14, 2019 Majda Anwar

This month, we’d like to kick off a new 2019 series of blog posts that explores interesting and out of the box marketing experiences. We’re calling this series “Outrageous Acts of Marketing” and hope to inspire marketing innovation for all of our readers. Whether you are a B2B marketer for a 5-person startup company or a B2C in a fortune 500 brand, this series is meant to help you think out of the box for your next campaign or customer experience.


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For our first entry in this series, I’d like to share an experience I had first hand last month with the Super Bowl. I am a native Atlantan, and for those of you who are not from Atlanta, let me explain to you the culture around the Coca-Cola brand. Coke is more than an eponym in this city. (An eponym is when a product is referred to as a single brand, for example facial tissue is referred to as Kleenex. Here is an entire list of brand eponyms.

When an Atlantan asks for a coke, they mean the Coca-Cola brand. Coca-Cola was founded in Atlanta over 100 years ago and is the most recognized brand in the world. Atlanta is proud to be the home of Coca-Cola, we even have a museum dedicated to the world of Coca-Cola. The 2019 Super Bowl was hosted in our city…but Pepsi is the official sponsor of the Super Bowl. Try to imagine the experience Pepsi had to create in coming into this city. Atlanta’s reaction can be summed up in this parody social media post:




While these humorous posts can give a chuckle to locals at a smaller level, both brands invested in clever messaging throughout the city. What I love about this approach is that both brands understood the situation and understood the culture of their audience (city of Atlanta with a majority of Coca-Cola brand loyalists) and leaned into that experience. It’s a great example to see some of the largest brands in the world take the time to customize their messages. While we may think that our own brands may not be able to “get away” with this sort of approach, humanizing your brand is something every marketer should consider. Here are a few examples of what I saw across the city last month:

A few weeks ago, I headed to Wal-Mart to pick up a few things and was greeted with this sign at the entrance:



Driving down the main highway that runs through the city, I saw this huge digital sign for all Atlantans to see. (Left Image) I also saw Pepsi ads throughout our public transportation system MARTA. (Right Image) Pepsi reportedly invested in over 350 pieces of advertising to “Paint Atlanta Blue”





Pepsi and Coca-Cola had some rules of engagement for soda sales at the event. Pepsi covered all logos of Coke coolers and soda fountains in the Mercedes Benz Stadium, and while Coke would be available from some fountains, fans could only carry it in Super Bowl, not Coca-Cola, branded cups. Pepsi took the opportunity to take a few jabs at Coca-Cola, in particular in the choice of venue for their concert series. The concert series Planet Pepsi was hosted at the old site of Coke’s World of Coca-Cola Museum, which had been vacant since 2007.



Demand generation marketers can learn a lot from these big brand strategies. Don’t market in a vacuum. I see a lot of B2B marketers messaging to their audiences that they are the best or the only option for their prospects and customers, and that just isn’t realistic and comes off as tone deaf. Understand that your prospects and customer will research your competition, and they are creating shortlist to contact as part of their buying journey. Use that customer information to your advantage and call it out in your messaging strategy. Be a part of the market in a way that takes your brand above your competitors. Pepsi did a great job of this during the Super Bowl and tied up their campaign with a great ending.

After the Super Bowl, Pepsi printed a full-page ad in the Atlanta Journal Constitution thanking the city Atlanta. The ad included a photo of statues of both Coke and Pepsi sponsors raising a cup of soda to each other.



As a native Atlanta, I loved experiencing the Cola Wars real-time in Atlanta during Super Bowl week. As a marketer, I was inspired to think a little more out of the box and a little more in tune with my target audience. What outrageous acts of marketing have you seen or experienced? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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