By Connor Wahrman

Clash of the Colas: An AdRate analysis of Coke & Pepsi’s 2019 Super Bowl TV ads

Colorful soft drinks

Download a free sample of the research.

Coke's inclusivity messaging resonated with African American viewers

Coke and Pepsi’s brand rivalry can be as intense as the most fraught of sports face-offs, and this Super Bowl saw two very different messaging approaches from these titans of sodapop. Our AdRate methodology reveals the stark differences in how cultural segments responded to these two TV spots.

In anticipation of Super Bowl LIII, we at Collage Group kept close tabs on which brands pre-released ads, and curated a selection to put through our AdRate analytics process. In the days preceding the big game, we tested 10 advertisements on nationally-representative samples of American consumers (n=1129 for the analysis here).

After a week of digesting the data we collected, we are excited to begin presenting the results with a continuation of the classic rivalry between Coca-Cola and Pepsi. But first, here is our ranking of the ten ads we tested:

Total Market Rankings chart

We also tested six alcoholic beverage ads on a 21+ sample and ranked them separately. More to come on those ads soon!

As you can see, Coke and Pepsi were neck and neck in terms of converting viewer opinion, with Coke’s Net Groundswell score just beating Pepsi’s by one percentage point. But we at Collage are never satisfied with leaving things at the Total Market, so let’s dig a little deeper:

The Ads

A Coke is a Coke is a Coke

Coke’s ad was slated for right before the national anthem, and its message of diversity and inclusivity falls right in line with previous Super Bowl spots. Instead of an explicitly political angle, the ad leans towards artistry, with a poem inspired by the works and words of Andy Warhol, and animation depicting a swirling array of both humans and fantastical creatures.

Is Pepsi Ok?

Still possibly stinging from the Kendall Jenner fiasco of 2017, Pepsi makes no attempt to emulate Coke’s classic message. Instead, the brand pokes fun at its often second-choice status with the help of Steve Carell, Lil Jon, and Cardi B. The tone goes from bland to bangin’ in seconds, and although Steve Carell needs to come up with a new catchphrase, it seems like Pepsi has landed on a new one of its own.

So how did these wildly different executions perform across cultural segments? Let’s take a look:

Ad Performance

At first glance at the metrics on the right, it’s clear that the Coke ad had a stronger Total Market Appeal, with higher Groundswell, lower Backlash, and consistently higher Brand Effects. The Brand Effect that really drove the difference, however, was Important Message – were it not for that data point, Coca-Cola would have little to brag about.

Coke versus Pepsi popularity chart

Breaking performance down across ethnicity, we see that the Coke ad did especially well for African American respondents. As the Favorability chart on the left shows, these respondents originally had a stronger preference towards Pepsi than Coke, but after watching both ads they came out with Coke slightly ahead. African-American viewers also had the highest Net Groundswell for Coke’s ad, at 8%.

Hispanic viewers started with equal Favorability towards both soda brands, so we were very interested in how they shaped out. Interestingly, the Hispanic segment was the only group that left our analysis actually favoring Pepsi over Coke. To explain this divergence between African-American and Hispanic viewers, we turned to our facial tracking data.

Facial Tracking

Coke’s sentimentality had stronger resonance with African-Americans

The following two charts show how Hispanic and African-American viewers responded to Coke’s ad in terms of Joy (green) and Sadness (blue), which can together create what we call “Peak Sentimentality.” As the chart on the left makes clear, Hispanic viewers were relatively stagnant in Joy throughout the ad, with two spikes in Sadness: when the brand is introduced, and with the final “together is beautiful too” line.

Coca Cola popularity with Hispanic and African Americans

For African-American viewers on the right, however, Joy increased linearly throughout the ad, punctuated by eight distinct spikes in Sadness over the minute-long ad. And at the final branding moment, Joy rockets up for this segment at a clip much higher than for the Hispanic viewers, locking in these emotional responses.

Based on this data, it’s clear that Coke’s ad touched African American viewers in a way that was not felt as strongly with the Hispanic segment. But what about Pepsi’s ad?

Hispanics appreciated Pepsi’s humor without influencer interruption

Here, the following charts track Joy (green) and Anger (red).

Pepsi popularity chart

Starting with Hispanics on the left, we see a quick Anger-Joy tradeoff (an understandable reaction to Steve Carell’s comedy), with small bumps in Joy as the other influencers arrive and then a final Joy spike with the again-humorous ending. In other words, Hispanic viewers got the joke without the casting making too much of an impact.

But African-American emotions on the right tell a different story. The segment begins the ad very similar to the Hispanic viewers, but it all changes when the tone shifts almost halfway through. African-American Joy spikes dramatically when Lil Jon is introduced, but then tapers down and is replaced by a small but steady wave of Anger as Cardi B takes the stage. Cardi B has seen her fair share of controversy recently, from her longstanding feud with Nicki Minaj to appearing in court this past December for the assault of two bartenders. Although this Anger ebbs and is replaced by a spike of Joy at the end of the ad, it is clear that Pepsi’s choice of influencers clearly interrupted the viewing experience for this segment.

So that’s the story: African-American viewers responded well to Coke’s sentimental message, while Hispanic viewers took Pepsi’s jokes and influencers in stride.

To learn about the benefits of AdRate, please contact Ryan Woods at 240.380.3075