Forget the Packers vs. the Broncos. The real battle to score points during Super Bowl XXXII is Coke vs. Pepsi.
The rivals’ game plans take different approaches to boost their share of the $53 billion consumers spend on soft drinks each year.
Coca-Cola Co., the official soft drink of the National Football League, is focusing on attractions and events at the game’s site, this year in San Diego. PepsiCo Inc. is spending millions on commercials to be aired during the game, spreading its message to the largest U.S. television audience of the year.
“Coca-Cola has chosen to leverage its sponsorship and attract young people,” said Kenneth Bernhardt, a marketing professor at Georgia State University and long-time watcher of the cola wars. “Pepsi knows as much is written about the commercials as the game, so they can get publicity that way. They’re both smart strategies.”
Pepsi, having spun off its restaurant chains, wants to take away soft-drink sales at restaurants from Coca-Cola, which holds a 65 percent share in that profitable category. Coca-Cola, meanwhile, is trying to boost its overall share of the domestic market to 50 percent by the end of the century from 43.1 percent now. Pepsi is at 31 percent.
Coca-Cola executives shifted its sports marketing strategy several years ago, putting emphasis on events that entertain fans instead of simply hanging signs in stadiums and arenas and airing commercials during time-outs.
It has added attractions like Coca-Cola Sky Field, a 22,000-square-foot entertainment park at Turner Field, the home of the Atlanta Braves, and the 12-acre Coca-Cola Olympic City that operated during the 1996 Summer Games.
Some teams, though, are asking for higher fees from Coke to sponsor their games. As a result, Coca-Cola has lost sponsorships like the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots to PepsiCo.
For Super Bowl XXXII, Coca-Cola issued a commemorative bottle in the San Diego market - a move that in the past has spurred sales, especially from memorabilia collectors. And it recently visited local schools with interactive football games and players like Chargers quarterback Stan Humphries.
Coca-Cola is also holding an attraction, complete with athlete appearances, football throwing and kicking games, sand sculpture artists and music the weekend before the game. It also sponsors the posh Taste of the NFL, a $300-a-plate fund-raiser designed to help local food banks.
Coca-Cola has shied away from Super Bowl ads in the past. It ran commercials last year for Diet Coke and Surge - the first time it bought time during the game in six years. Although it hasn’t said what it will do with the spots, Coca-Cola has bought time for a couple of commercials this year.
Coca-Cola relies more on its five-year, $250 million NFL sponsorship, which expires soon.
“Coke very much likes to dominate where they are,” Bernhardt said. “Given the cost of Super Bowl commercials, you can’t easily dominate that.”
Pepsi traditionally uses the Super Bowl telecast as the kickoff for its new ads for the next 12 months. Past commercials have included dancing bears and a Coca-Cola truck driver caught sipping a Pepsi.