Coca Cola vs Pepsi | Logo Design Case Study

Coca Cola vs Pepsi

In our last logo design case study post we looked at The UN Logo and shared some thoughts and ideas about it. Today’s case study has less political undercurrent but occupies an equally massive market space, the fizzy drinks market.

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“The Soda Wars” have been raging for well over 100 years and the argument of “Coca Cola is nicer than Pepsi” or vice-versa is older than the hills. People have different palettes and like different things, that argument can never be settled.

Something that can be settled though, is why Coca Cola have consistently trumped Pepsi in the soda market. Now, we’re not talking about who makes the most money overall. Both Pepsi and Coca Cola are huge corporations with a lot of other brand names under their respective umbrellas. We’re simply talking about cola and cola alone. “[1] PepsiCo may have brought in 38 percent more revenue in 2011 than Coca Cola. But its archrival sold $28 billion worth of soda while PepsiCo only sold $12 billion.”

I believe that where Coca Cola have succeeded and Pepsi have failed is with their branding. For over 100 years, Coca Cola have used the same logo. The swirly typeface that everyone the world over can recognise. Sure, it’s been sat on a couple of different backgrounds and had the word “Coke” added to it now and again, but essentially, it’s been the same logo. Pepsi on the other hand, started out with a logo very similar to Coca Cola’s. A hand drawn red typeface. Over the years, Pepsi’s logo evolved and changed with the times. The 1940’s version of the Pepsi logo is great, and I wish they’d stuck with it. However, they moved on, bringing in the blue and keeping up with trends, a vital branding mistake. Have a look at this image;

Coca Cola vs Pepsi Logo Design History

Coca Cola and Pepsi Logo History

If you asked somebody to describe the Coca Cola logo, you’d probably get a response along the lines of “it’s those red swirly letters”. And on the other hand, if you asked somebody to describe the Pepsi logo, you would probably get a different version, depending on what it was like when they remember it most. Coca Cola’s branding is timeless. It hasn’t aged and it still looks great. Because Pepsi have elected to follow design trends, every several years, they have to roll out a refreshed logo design.

Some people will argue that Pepsi’s circular imagery is recognisable, and really, there’s no denying that. However, how is it remembered? Is it the circle that’s got Pepsi wrote in the middle (1973)? Is it the 1991 version of the logo with the big red tail? Or is it 2008’s slanted version of the circle? They seem to change their icon whenever the mood suits. I have to argue that the Pepsi logo would have worked better if they’d picked the positioning and secured it with a classic typeface from the word go. It could’ve been timeless, classic and iconic (all words that are associated with Coca Cola) but due to indecisiveness I feel the logo falls short of reaching that summit.

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Evolution of the Coca Cola can

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Evolution of the Pepsi can

Looking through the cluttered history of the fizzy drinks cans of both companies, the logo changes and evolutions become even more apparent. The logo on Pepsi’s first can is completely different to that on the last can. It also appears that in 1990, whoever was responsible for designing Pepsi’s cans bumped their head and created some sort of discotheque styled graphical monstrosity.

On looking at Coca Cola’s history of cans, their recognisable type based logo is ever present, as are their brand colours; red and white. They didn’t seem to veer off their track too much until between 1994 and 2000 where they seemed to get confused over whether their can was actually a bottle. However, on realising their mistake, it was dropped and in 2002 they adopted their “classic” look and it’s been there ever since. Sure, they release limited edition cans, seasonal cans and the like but that logo and those colours are always there.

There are numerous other areas in which Pepsi’s strategy has tripped up. In the 1980’s Pepsi’s celebrity endorsement strategy ran into several problems. The first being a pyrotechnic stunt gone wrong which left Michael Jackson addicted to painkillers. In 1987, David Bowie (another of Pepsi’s celebrity faces) was accused of sexual assault, forcing the company to drop their new advert immediately.

A string of other bad marketing errors, such as Pepsi’s advert that makes fun of rival brand Coca Cola, actually helping Coca Cola, lead to Pepsi seated safely in the number two fizzy drinks spot (until Diet Coke overtook them). Pepsi targeted both Santa Claus and Coca Cola’s famous polar bears in their “hilarious” advertising campaign, that actually ended up helping their rivals.

In May 2012 Brad Jakeman, Pepsi’s new chief creative officer was tasked with creating a new global campaign. He spent nine months and over $5 million dollars to figure out “Coke is timeless. Pepsi is timely.” Really Brad? It took you that long to figure that out? How is that even possible? I think I’d figured that out by the 3rd paragraph of this article, and that was before researching where Pepsi were going wrong.

[2] “You don’t need a consultancy to tell you that Coke has used the polar bear and Santa mascots for decades. The product is named “Classic.” Everything about the brand is traditional.”

And therein lies the key problem. Coca Cola have their message and brand identity, it’s the same as their logo; timeless and classic. Pepsi on the other hand, have nothing. They haven’t got that key hook to their brand that gets people. They’ve got nothing to hang their advertising from. Everything related to the brand just seems to be random. Random can be great, if done right (see – Rowntree’s Randoms). However, when random isn’t what you’re going for, it’s just a term that’s bandied about because people don’t quite know how to classify you or your product.

Just as a fun little exercise, take a look at and compare the Coca Cola and Pepsi websites;

Coca Cola Website

Coca Cola website

Pepsi Website

Pepsi website

Comparing the two company websites would be another blog post in it’s own right, but I think from these two screenshots alone, you can see which of the two companies is miles out in front of their competition. I’m really not sure if Pepsi are a drinks company or if they’re selling tickets for concerts.

How can Pepsi sort it out? They need to get hold of a concept. They need to redesign their logo, packaging and entire brand identity to reflect that. Essentially, they need to do what they should’ve done years ago. They need to start again and rebuild their entire brand message, or, get a brand message as at the minute, there isn’t enough to rebuild.

Do you think Pepsi are going wrong? Do you prefer Pepsi to Coke? 😉 Let us know your thoughts below.

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[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/how-pepsi-lost-cola-war-against-coke-2012-5?op=1
[2] http://www.businessinsider.com/how-pepsi-lost-cola-war-against-coke-2012-5?op=1

Tony Hardy is the Founder and CEO of Canny Creative. He is a graphic designer, web designer, brand consultant, blogger, Newcastle based entrepreneur, drummer, and wrestling fan.

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8 comments on “Coca Cola vs Pepsi | Logo Design Case Study

  1. Chris Bradley on

    Great article and whilst I agree with much of what you say and more interestingly I was under the mistaken impression that pepsi had only been going since the 50s coincidentally when the iconic Pepsi 3 colour circle logo came into fruition!

    However I think your final advice to Pepsi is a little misguided in the fact that you suggest “They need to start again and rebuild their entire brand message, or, get a brand message as at the minute, there isn’t enough to rebuild.”

    Isn’t the point to your whole argument that Pepsi have attempted to redesign themselves and fully rebrand the company every decade to appeal to the new generation whereas Coca-cola have tried it once or twice only to go back to the old familiar.

    If I was Pepsi I would return back to the original design of the 3 coloured circle without the current update to it and continue with the current plain font they are using.

    After all the recognisable image of coca cola is the writing, possibly why Pepsi decided to move away from that appearance and go with the circle. For Pepsi, the circle is the iconic logo.

    Reply
    • Tony Hardy on

      Thanks for the comments Chris. Appreciate you taking the time to read the article.

      I think the whole point is “Pepsi need to adopt something timeless, rather than changing their brand all the time to keep up with current trends”. I’m not saying their circle is bad, I think they just need to work on it, stick with it, stop changing the angle of it and have some confidence in the design! It is, after all, what people associate with them.

      Reply
  2. Jonathan on

    I just stumbled on this article, as I was thinking about how as a kid I always used to drink Pepsi, but now I drink Coke. I remember the classic 1980s Pepsi design, and the 1991 rebrand. I think that worked OK because it was essentially the same colourscheme, just a slightly different design. Since 1997, I think they have changed too much. To me Pepsi is always a white background with the circle logo and blue writing.

    So now when I see Pepsi it looks like a
    different product, whereas Coke is recognizable despite the many changes. I’m not saying that’s why I don’t drink Pepsi anymore (my tastes have changed and now I drink Diet Coke anyway) but I would be more tempted to buy an occasional Pepsi if they actually looked like they did when I was a kid. Plus, I think the design is kinda ugly now anyway.

    Reply
    • Tony Hardy on

      The old retro Pepsi was the best. I was in the Dr’s the other day and came across a vending machine that had clearly been there since the 70s. Retrofit logo, panels and all!

      Reply
  3. Vee (@macadamiathenut) on

    Did you try to return a can of Pepsi that you didn’t want? And did they refuse to take it back?
    Because I just read your ‘post’ and it reads more like a sarcastic put down of Pepsi than like a legitimate case study. The only relevant things you’ve even REMOTELY said about the two logos can be summed up in two or three lines. The rest are repetitions of the same sentences in different ways – like you’re wringing every last vestige of anti-Pepsi feeling out of your system.

    A logo is not just the typeface – it is also about the colors, graphic element, symbol etc. I’m just a student of Design and yet, I know at least this much. But you don’t seem to have taken these into consideration at all. Very surprising.

    I have a few points to address…

    1. As a consumer, I really don’t give a fig about the change in logo design – as long as the product is recognizable to me. And Pepsi manages to achieve that thanks to its iconic colors.

    2. You might have been around in the 40’s but I wasn’t – I don’t remember whatPepsi or Coke looked like back then. So why would I care about timelessness? I believe that logos need to be contemporary than timeless. As a consumer I need to identify with the brand. So i’d say that Flexibility is infinitely more important than timelessness.

    3. Since you haven’t mentioned geography in your Title, let me ask you this.. Have you done your research well? Because if you had, you’d know that the 2 brands have varying loyalty-bases depending on the regions they’re sold in. It’s a very important factor to consider while doing a comparative analysis (design or otherwise) for a global product. UNLESS you specifically mention that it’s for XYZ region. Global brands need to adapt to the local area because customs, traditions and taboos are huge factors that affect sales.

    4. You mentioned the statistics of the two brands. Do you really think that it is the logo design that’s solely responsible for it? Wow! If a mere logo could influence a brand that way, then why do companies hire huge marketing teams, brand gurus and forecasters etc? All they’d need to do is hire a hot shot designer to design a hot shot logo and POOF! instant sales, market leadership and guaranteed customer loyalty! Thats tunnel vision, not to mention wishful thinking IMHO. Where are your statistics about the logo-preference? Any info about samplings and consumer surveys?

    5. The icing on the ridiculous cake that is your post, is this – your review of the two websites. From a so-called comparative study of logos to a dig at their website? I’m surprised you don’t realize the importance of leading footfalls into a website. Why would a consumer visit a site UNLESS there was some value add for him? A chance to win tickets is a sure-fire way of ensuring visitors. I”d call it brilliant. And I’d call you an uninformed nincompoop for writing a half baked write-up about a comparative study when there is absolutely NO substance in your post.

    I could go on and on about every ridiculous comment you’ve made. But I don’t have the time now… because I have an assignment to complete. Interestingly, it’s a study of the Coca Cola brand (which I love btw, in case you think I’m a Pepsi fanatic). I came here thinking I’d get some input… but what I found instead was tons of useless material on who NOT do write a comparative analysis. Sorry to sound so scathing dude, but I am very anal about pretentious pseudo-literates who spread misleading articles across the www.

    Reply
    • Tony Hardy on

      Thanks for your well constructed and well thought out comment. I can assure you, I did not try to return any cans of Pepsi. I have read your comment thoroughly and reflected on the Coca Cola vs Pepsi post myself (it was a little over 7 months ago I wrote this now,) and to be honest, I share a lot of your views, the post could have been better researched/written. However, it is a brief comparison, not a University level assignment. I would be very interested in reading your own comparison or study of the Coca Cola brand. Good luck with it.

      Reply
  4. Perran on

    Saw this reposted on twitter, and had a read.

    I do think their is some confusion between brand and logo in this article. Coke’s brand is stronger than Pepsi’s overall but Pepsi’s logo alone is very strong and carries huge brand equity. The problem Pepsi have, in my professional opinion, is their brand direction is flawed. They had huge success during the late 90’s early 00’s with their association with Britney Spears and Destiny’s Child. However that direction feels stale and their brand is becoming limited to a market of teeny-boppers and those that can’t get Coke in a restaurant.

    Coke on the other hand have shown some of the best modern branding and marketing of the modern era. Their brand direction has taken them towards “happiness”, consider their “share a coke” payoff and the brand illustration style they use. Bright, vibrant and exciting. They have leverage social media like very few other large corporations have, there guerilla/viral marketing is fantastic.

    I could go on for hours about the differences here but maybe that is for a blog post of my own!

    Sorry if I seem overly critical this is an old article and I am sure your perspective has changed considerably.

    Reply
    • Tony Hardy on

      Hi Perran, thanks for your great and well though out comment. Your comment adds some great extra insight to the post and I’d certainly be interested in reading any blog post that you write on the subject.

      Reply

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