Pepsi Challenge Still Being Fought--On YouTube

In a nation much divided over everything from health insurance to Renee Zellweger’s plastic surgery, it’s probably just overkill to relive the heydays of Pepsi Challenge in the mid-70s and early 80s. 

But here goes, in case you forgot: The Pepsi Challenge  was a blind taste test asking consumers to  compare the taste of two soft drinks and pick the best-tasting one.   

Pepsi usually won, and always in the commercials. I mean, it was their commercial. For a while, it appeared these commercials would catapult Pepsi over Coke, once and for all. And for a short while, Pepsi outsold Coke by some measures.  (In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explained that in a short burst--a sip--people will usually choose the sweetest taste-Pepsi--but their attitude might change when confronted with a whole bottle. It’s something similar to what happens when you read a lot of Malcolm Gladwell.)



Decades and the New Coke disaster later, fascination with taste test still exists, and Coke and Pepsi devotees still duke it out.

ZEFR, a tech company that provides consumer targeting  for brands and content providers, took a look at how Coke and Pepsi still fight on YouTube.  

In a nutshell, beyond taste tests, Coca-Cola has four times as many branded videos, nearly twice as much fan generated video and twice as much engagement as Pepsi. But as a percentage of the total, Pepsi has more fan-generated videos, which shows a kind of spirited engagement that counts for something.

But beyond that, Erik Weber, an audience specialist for ZEFR, compiled research that shows those taste tests still have some resonance.  ZEFR says that are 731 Pepsi Challenge videos on YouTube that have earned more than 2.7 million views and nearly 45,000 engagements--defined as a comment, a “like” or a “dislike.” Almost all of those are videos of the original commercials.

But there are an incredible 834 homemade Pepsi-Coke challenge videos with over 32 million views and over 159,000 engagements.

“While the official “Pepsi Challenge” campaign has been retired, the fans on YouTube have always been, and will continue to be, fighting it out amongst themselves,” Weber wrote on a ZEFR blog.  

The real amazing thing, for both brands, is that user generated content makes up an enormous part of Coke and Pepsi’s presence on YouTube.

Coke-themed YouTube videos have earned 3.5 billion views, but 82% of those views were of videos posted by fans. Likewise, Pepsi-themed YouTubes have had nearly 2 billion views, but 87% of them were directed to user-generated content, not videos posted by Pepsi itself.  

The Coke-takes-rust-off-bumper video is not the kind of UGC Coke is so crazy about, probably. But I’d assume most are kinder than that.

“The most important takeaway here is the realization that the culture around both Coke and Pepsi is continually being shaped by the fans,” Weber writes. “When it comes to choosing a favorite brand, people are asked to decide for themselves. No official brand campaign can control the message, it can only hope to help shape it, or at least point it in a preferable direction. But with YouTube, the audience has evolved in a manner that requires brands to be authentic, lest the brand be called out for dishonesty. Anything less than 'the real thing' is just another marketing ploy to a shrewd YouTube audience.”
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