Super Bowl sponsor PepsiCo is used to being in enemy territory. The last four Super Bowls were hosted by cities where Coca-Cola enjoys a market share lead in carbonated soft drinks, as the table below shows. While the same holds true this year for Super Bowl LIII, the stakes are even higher as Coke’s hometown Atlanta plays host. Sunday’s action at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be the equivalent of 20 football fields away from Coke CEO James Quincey’s office. When Atlanta was named this year’s NFL host in 2016, PepsiCo was already half-way through an estimated $1 billion, 10-year deal to sponsor the game. So Coke was left to grin and bear the intrusion. Pepsi, meanwhile, has been given a golden opportunity to differentiate the brand and steal the spotlight from team red in the company’s own backyard. The rivalry hasn’t disappointed. Blue Skyline. Pepsi got off to a fast start, buying up outdoor advertising space on as many as 350 billboards, buildings and other structures, including near Coke headquarters. All the sites were wrapped in blue and carried messages such as “Look Who’s in Town for Super Bowl LIII” and “Pepsi in Atlanta. How Refreshing.” Pepsi also wrapped some 500 city recycling bins in blue. Similar banners greeted travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and inside the city’s transit stations. “We want everyone visiting Atlanta to know that we’re there to have fun and to paint the town blue,” said PepsiCo CMO Greg Lyons in an interview. “We’re trying to have a little bit of friendly competition.” Team Red. Coke, meanwhile, has played the classic front-runner role, graciously welcoming Pepsi to town while making sure fans and consumers know Coca-Cola is the official soft drink of Mercedes-Benz stadium. “Welcome to our house,” read retail displays at Walmart depicting images of the stadium and the Atlanta skyline against stacked red soda cases. Poking the Bear. And Pepsi has poked and prodded, like any good challenger. The brand announced and sampled Nitro Pepsi during Super Bowl lead-up festivities. In a promotion with grocery chain Kroger, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley surprised consumers who had purchased Pepsi-Cola as part of their pick-up grocery orders. The video was posted on YouTube. In a social media stunt on Wednesday, marketers placed a bronze statue of Pepsi-Cola founder Caleb Bradham next to a permanent World of Coca-Cola statue of founder John Pemberton. Pepsi posted photos of the statues toasting, using #ColaTruce and #TogetherIsBeautiful. The latter is the tagline for Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl spot, set to air just before the national anthem (Coke isn’t airing an ad during the game itself.) By Thursday, one Georgia legislator took to the state House floor to defend the honor of his hometown soda. “Heck no it’s not OK,” he said, in a reference to Pepsi’s Super Bowl ad, “Is Pepsi OK?” Then he added, “Friends don’t let friends drink a Coke wannabe.” House staffers posted a video of the speech on YouTube. Remaining the good host, Coke refrained from posting the clip on its social media channels.
Landmark Maneuver. With just two days before the big game, Pepsi isn’t finished. Marketers have been promoting a concert and “immersive, one-of-a-kind party” for tonight called Pepsi Planet, without revealing the location. BD has learned that Pepsi is transforming the site of the original World of Coke, which operated from 1990 until 2007, into a pop-up venue for the show. Red trim vestiges of the building’s former life can be seen through the windows of the now-unoccupied shell near the state Capitol on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The exterior of the building once included an iconic neon Coke sign (now on Peachtree Street) that was encased in a metal frame shaped like a globe. Pepsi plans to project a planet image of its own in that space, saying the event as a whole will be a “multi-sensory experience.” The current World of Coke, opened in 2007, is about a mile away.
Brands. Two years ago, PepsiCo advertised its new premium bottled water Lifewtr (along with Pepsi Zero Sugar) during the Super Bowl to build awareness of the brand. Last year, the company moved back to a core brand focus with Pepsi-Cola and Mtn. Dew (Dew Ice launch). While Pepsi-Cola still gets time this year, PepsiCo’s sparkling water Bubly will share the Super Bowl spotlight in a campaign featuring singer Michael Bublé. “The objective is to raise awareness of Bubly,” Lyons said. “Right now, only 20% of households are aware that Bubly sparkling water exists and if we can get that number up, there is just so much upside for this business.” Lyons said the excitement of Super Bowl also helps “fire up” front line workers to build extra displays and prompt customers to provide more display space for a newer brand like Bubly. BD estimates that Bubly’s share of the sparkling water category reached about 3.2% at the end of last year, having accelerated in the fourth quarter. As for Pepsi-Cola, which needs to regain share lost to Coca-Cola in recent years, the brand’s Super Bowl campaign stars comedian Steve Carrell and centers on a question asked by waiters in restaurants when someone orders a Coke: “Is Pepsi Ok?” “We wanted to lean into it and have a little bit of fun with it,” he said. “We wanted to get the point across that, ‘Of course Pepsi’s OK. It’s more than OK. It’s awesome.’” The Super Bowl ad features two pop music stars, Cardi B and Lil Jon, who both have famous catch phrases that are creative versions of the word “OK.” The idea for the campaign was sparked in large part because the Super Bowl was being hosted in Coke’s hometown, Lyons said.
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