Have you ever had blind taste tests with certain sodas to see which one you like more? Or to guess if you can identify which soda you just sipped?
With so many cola-flavored sodas like Pepsi, Coke, RC Cola, Sam’s Cola, etc., blind taste tests have been around for a while and can be fun.
You might have heard of the Pepsi Challenge or even participated if you’re aware of such taste tests. This challenge has an exciting backstory filled with rivalry and drama.
Keep reading to learn more about this challenge and if you can participate in one yourself!
What is the Pepsi Challenge?
The Pepsi Challenge is a marketing promotion that Pepsico began in 1975 by Donald M. Kendall. It is a strategy that Pepsi employed to try to get an advantage over Coca-Cola in its ongoing rivalry. It even seemed to work for some time.
In 1975, Pepsi representatives all over the nation began setting up blind taste tests in malls, shopping centers, and other public areas. They would set up two unlabelled cups, one containing Pepsi and the other containing Coke. Audience members would be asked to sip from both cups and choose which soda they prefer.
According to the Pepsi Challenge commercials, most customers preferred Pepsi over Coke during the taste test. However, despite some increases in Pepsi sales, people ultimately went back to buying Coke, and the hype lasted only a short time.
There is a theory about why people preferred Pepsi over Coke during the taste tests. It’s no secret that Pepsi is sweeter than Coke. It has been suggested that one sip of both sodas had people choosing the sweeter one – Pepsi. Our brain releases the happy chemical dopamine when we taste something sweet, which might be why people choose Pepsi over Coke.
However, eventually, drinking something sweet can become too much. This is why it’s theorized that the taste of Pepsi was only preferable for the taste tests where people had the soda in small quantities. When it came to drinking soda cans, Coke was preferred instead as the low level of sweetness was preferable.
Are Coke and Pepsi actually rivals?
Coke and Pepsi have a long-going rivalry, also unofficially called the Cola Wars. The rivalry has existed for over a century now. It blew up even further in the 1970s through targeted campaigns and ads. Today, the rivalry continues.
Although all cola drinks are technically rivals, the two biggest competitors are Coke and Pepsi. Ever since both sodas originated, there has been ongoing competition between the two cola-flavored sodas. Coke has always been in the lead, whereas Pepsi struggled financially for several years.
Both sodas have a particular brand image they always portray. Coke has always made ads with a more personal touch to them to invoke emotions. One of its most famous campaigns has been ‘Share a Coke,’ where different names were printed on the bottle labels. This excited consumers as they searched for their names or their loved ones.
On the other hand, Pepsi has relied chiefly on ads with celebrity endorsements, for example, Michael Jackson in 1984. The slogan at the end said “the choice of a new generation,” which appealed to a younger audience instead.
Eventually, however, the rivalry became more public and direct when Pepsi issued the Pepsi Challenge. It directly challenged Coke as commercials and results showed consumers choosing Pepsi over Coke. This made Coke nervous, and the company began to find ways to gain the upper hand again.
Coke concluded that it needed to change its recipe to resemble Pepsi. This led to New Coke, a new flavor that tasted sweet like Pepsi. However, this decision was met with negative feedback, and eventually, Coke returned to its original flavor.
Surprisingly, this seemingly terrible decision was a good thing for Coke. People were so excited to see the return of the original Coke that they began to buy it even more than before.
Furthermore, in 2010, Diet Coke beat the sales of Pepsi for the first time, becoming the second-most preferred cola soft drink and bumping Pepsi over to third place.
Today, however, the rivalry has been subdued. With times changing, people have become more health conscious. Although they still drink soda in abundance, numbers have decreased compared to the past. A considerable setback occurred when COVID-19 struck, and movie theaters were shut down. Yet, both companies held their own in these trying times.
What is the ‘Challenge Your Taste’ campaign?
Pepsi MAX introduced the Challenge Your Taste campaign in 2021. This campaign released an advertisement that hyped up its unique taste and encouraged consumers to try the new Pepsi MAX.
The ad talks about Pepsi MAX and how it contains no sugar yet retains a robust taste and flavor that leaves you refreshed and energized. It’s a continuation of Pepsi’s taste test challenge, which still exists today.
The first Pepsi MAX taste challenge took place in the UK in 2019. According to the results, 65% of the people tested preferred Pepsi MAX in the challenge. Recently, Pepsi MAX continued the taste challenge in 2022 and held an eight-week roadshow in the UK. According to the company, 70% of the consumers in the UK preferred the taste of Pepsi MAX over other cola drinks.
Where did Pepsi drop the ball?
Although Pepsi took a bold step by initiating the Pepsi Challenge against Coca-Cola, some areas of this strategy could have worked better and needed improvement.
When the Pepsi Challenge began, people were surprised to find Pepsi winning in the blind taste tests nationwide. Pepsi’s market share increased from 6 to 14 percent among all U.S. soda sales. It also created many taste test commercials which incentivize people to try Pepsi over Coke.
Around the same time, Coke was getting nervous. It changed its recipe, opting for a sweeter taste similar to Pepsi. The “New Coke” received massive backlash from consumers, who all complained about the new taste and demanded the old flavor be returned. Pepsi capitalized on this change and created commercials regarding the New Coke.
However, despite all of this, Pepsi still couldn’t beat Coke. Things could have gone better for Pepsi if it had done more during its Pepsi Challenge. For example, it could have offered free coupons during the taste tests or other incentives to keep coming back to Pepsi, not Coke.
Ultimately, it comes down to Coke having a preferable taste to Pepsi. Also, the fact that Coke sales came back up despite the New Coke debacle shows that the original Coke taste is unique and beloved by its consumers. No amount of branding and marketing helped Pepsi beat Coke in terms of sales during this challenge.
What are the results?
The Pepsi Challenge had some interesting results. In most taste tests, Pepsi was preferable to Coke, and the sales for Pepsi increased. However, this still wasn’t enough to take Coke down.
Pepsi representatives all over the nation set up blind taste tests in malls and shopping areas. Most of the sip taste tests resulted in Pepsi being preferable. However, as a whole, these results didn’t hinder Coke’s sales and popularity.
As mentioned earlier, Pepsi’s market share sales increased compared to before. However, Pepsi was still far behind Coke in terms of sales. Thus, the challenge, as a whole, could have been more successful.
Overall, the taste test was taken by over 6 million Americans, among which 52% preferred Pepsi, whereas 48% chose Coke. Thus, the Pepsi Challenge didn’t give Pepsi an edge over Coke. However, it still had an impact nationwide, even for a while.
The Pepsi Challenge was integral to the bitter rivalry between Coke and Pepsi. It took the nation by the waves as millions of Americans took part in the challenge to decide which cola they preferred. The results shocked many people, especially those who preferred Coke but chose Pepsi.
Despite the favorable results for Pepsi during the challenge, they were less desirable than they’d hoped, as Pepsi’s sales didn’t even come close to that of Coke. However, that didn’t deter Pepsi, as taste challenges still occur today, both officially and unofficially.
If you’ve never tried a taste challenge between Pepsi and Coke, you need to! It can be a fun activity with your friends and family. And who knows? You might be surprised by the results yourself.