Coke or Pepsi? Exploring the Historic Beverage Rivalry

Adjacent photographs of "Cola Cola" billboard on cloudy day and neon "Pepsi Cola" sign at night near city skyscrapers

It seems as though the war between Coke and Pepsi has been going on since the Middle Ages. But while the jousting between both cola beverage brands hasn't been going on for that long it has been an ongoing topic for as long as anyone alive today can remember. But how did it come to this? How did two of the world's most recognizable brands wind up locked in a battle for global market dominance, and is it possible to declare a winner? In this post, the team that brings you the most delicious sparkling CBD soda around set out to answer those questions.

In the Beginning…

Coke first hit the market in 1886. It was invented by a Pharmacist named John S. Pemberton and sold as a patent medicine at pharmacy soda fountains in Pemberton’s native Atlanta. Pemberton claimed his elixir would cure heartburn and nausea and was an effective treatment for headaches, while cocaine (which gave the drink its name and would ultimately be replaced with caffeine) provided an energy boost.

Pemberton would not live long enough to see his creation conquer the beverage world. He died in 1888, but not before selling off a majority stake in his business to a fellow Atlanta businessman named Asa Chandler. After Pemberton's death, Chandler also acquired the rights to both the recipe and the Coca Cola name and began distributing his cola to pharmacies outside Atlanta.

Enter Pepsi Cola

Caleb D. Bradham was a pharmacist from North Carolina who sold the newfangled Coke at his soda fountain. Amazed by its popularity he decided to have a go at creating his own cola. To set his product apart, he made it sweeter than Coke and notably decided to forego adding cocaine to his drink, relying instead on sugar to provide the energy boost.

While Coke enjoyed a steady rise in popularity, Pepsi went through numerous fits and starts. In the aftermath of World War I the company was forced to declare bankruptcy on several occasions and was ultimately sold to one Charles Guth who tweaked the recipe and leaned hard into marketing a new 12-ounce, 5-cent bottle of his beverage. His efforts righted the Pepsi ship but he would ultimately lose majority control of his company to competing interests.

Origins of War…

For decades the two cola giants enjoyed a sort of peaceful coexistence. However, after once again falling on hard times in the early 1970s Pepsi decided it was time for drastic measures and introduced “The Pepsi Challenge”. The Pepsi Challenge was a series of TV ads wherein people were blindfolded and asked to choose between Pepsi and Coke.

Turns out a majority of people who took the Pepsi Challenge chose Pepsi. Coke cried foul but the tests were deemed legitimate. The marketing campaign became hugely successful, returned Pepsi to profitability and took a significant bite out of Coke’s market share. By the mid-1980s the board of directors of Coke decided they needed to find some way to hit back.

The Rise and Fall of New Coke

The Pepsi Challenge has attained legendary status and anyone who sells soft drinks, including those of us who make Sparkling CBD Sodas, knows the story by heart. We are also keenly aware of Coca Cola’s equally famous, but disastrous response: New Coke.

In an effort to regain momentum in the wake of the Pepsi Challenge Coke decided to discard their original recipe and introduce a new, sweeter version of their cola. Branded “New Coke” and launched in 1985 it fell flat with the public. Within three months the original Coke was back and rebranded “Coke Classic”. But while Coke Classic managed to regain some market momentum from Pepsi, it was another product that ultimately won the cola war for Coke.

How Coke Won the War

While the rivalry between Coke and Pepsi continues to a certain degree almost everyone agrees that Coke landed the knockout blow with the introduction of Diet Coke in 1982. Originally lost in the brouhaha surrounding New Coke, Diet Coke - which used aspartame as a sweetener - quietly became an enormous hit with customers who were starting to become more health conscious and didn't want to be consuming huge amounts of sugar all the time.

20-odd years after its introduction sales of Diet Coke overtook sales of Pepsi Cola meaning Coke now had the #1 (Coke Classic) and #2 (Diet Coke) best selling soft drinks on the planet. Pepsi eventually introduced its own diet version but it has never gained the same traction with consumers as Diet Coke. By 2010 even the Wall Street Journal was declaring that Coca Cola had won the cola wars.

If there is a lesson in all of this for those of us who make CBD Sparkling Soda it’s this: be true to yourself. Even though they still had the most popular soft drink in the world the people in control at Coca Cola panicked when confronted with The Pepsi Challenge. Their ill-advised launch of New Coke sent the company reeling for no good reason and if they hadn’t done a quick about face their self-inflicted wound may have ended up handing Pepsi the cola crown.

Maybe it’s Time You Tried Our Delicious CBD Drinks

The cola giants slugging it out makes for interesting reading, but if you really want to turn on your taste buds try our CBD beverages, especially our sparkling cola. It’s a refreshing change of pace that will quench your thirst and win your heart.