Jon Michaeli’s Blog

Coke Zero vs. Pepsi One – A marketer’s perspective

Posted in Uncategorized by Jon Michaeli on January 28, 2009
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Coke really got the best of this one. Pepsi was first to market with a new better tasting diet soda, launched over 10 years ago in Oct. 1998. The ad campaign featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. (very popular at the time thanks in huge part to his role in Jerry Maguire) was actually quite effective. Ten years later, along comes sucralose (Splenda) and the Coke Zero launch.

While I understand and appreciate the significance of the word “One” in “Pepsi One” (i.e. it has just one calorie), psychologically speaking, you cannot beat “Zero”. In terms of consumer perception and propensity to purchase, it’s a lot like comparing the difference between “Free” and “90% off”. Nothing can compare to “Free”.

In addition, somehow Coke Zero has alluded the categorization as a diet soda, at least by some percentage of the population. Recently I was on a flight, and I asked the flight attendant to list the diet soda options. She ran through them but didn’t mention Coke Zero.  When I asked about Coke Zero, she replied, “Yes, we have that too.” I have had similar experiences on at least two other occasions.

After doing additional non-scientific research, it seems Coke has been successful not only in creating a better tasting diet soda, but also in convincing many Coke loyalists to make the switch. You could make the case then that Coke Zero will simply cannibalize sales of both the regular and diet varieties. I would argue, however, that a diet that truly tastes like the real thing, will increase overall demand; diet drinkers will drink more because it tastes better (and Splenda has fewer proven long-term side effects – though the jury is still out on that one), and regular drinkers will drink more because every can consumed won’t expand their waist lines.


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