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Senior Correspondent

What Ever Happened to the Pepsi Generation?

The concept of a Pepsi advertising campaign designed to capture America’s youth had it's roots in the 1960’s. But it wasn’t until the 1980’s that “The Choice of a New Generation” struck 14-24 year-olds like a social tsunami. Michael Jackson, the theme to “Billie Jean” and a phenomenal blend of marketing and entertainment drove the Pepsi brand to the pinnacle of contemporary culture. Coca-Cola was so taken aback by the success that they made a colossal error in judgment. They abandoned their century-old recipe and launched “New Coke." The result was disastrous. It  looked like Pepsi had won the Cola War. But they had won only a battle.

Pundits attribute Coca-Cola’s rebound to the reintroduction of Coke Classic and better marketing and advertising. My view is that Pepsi shot themselves in the foot. They either took their eye off the core business when they ventured into other beverages or were lured into change for change’s sake. On the corporate front, shareholders welcomed the expansion of the portfolio that included Lipton Ice Tea, Gatorade, Starbuck Frappuccino, Dole & Tropicana Juices, Aquafina, and SoBe. These beverages plus snacks and other acquisitions substantially added to PepsiCo’s bottom line and market cap. That said, the core cola business continues to erode in a U.S. market that has declined for 6 consecutive years.

Make no mistake; Pepsi-Cola brand is still big business. So, what are Pepsi’s marketers doing to revitalize it? Seemingly they believe that a return to comparative advertising is the way to go. I don’t think so. We have the Pepsi trucker meeting the Coke trucker and a pair of spots that poke fun at Coke icons polar bears and Santa Clause. I suspect those who may respond to these commercials are in their 40’s—that’s the age of those who couldn’t get enough of Michael Jackson and "The Choice of a New Generation" in the 1980’s.

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