This article originally appeared on our blog at blogs.forbes.com.
A new round of playfully competitive Pepsi ads, which take jabs at rival Coca-Cola by using Coke icons such as Santa Claus or the polar bears, may have just hit the spot for Pepsi. Since their unfurling, Pepsi’s Buzz score among 18-34 year-olds has jolted up 40 points, placing it neck and neck with Coke.
After falling to third in the Cola Wars behind Coke and Diet Coke in 2010, Pepsi aimed to recover lost ground with the ads, which portray longtime Coke spokespersons (and spokesanimals) drinking Pepsi with the tag-line “Summer Time is Pepsi Time”. In one spot, we are introduced to a Hawaiian shirt-clad Santa Claus, sashaying to mid-90s hit “This Is How We Do It” at a beach-side party. Excusing himself for a soda, he requests a Pepsi from the first confused, but soon acquiescent bartender. Mr. Claus then explains his decision with the words “I’m on vacaaaaation. I’ma have a little fuuuuun” before sealing the transaction with a fist-bump.
While the ads might appear to be aiming a bit below the belt—Coke is closely tied to Santa Claus, as the image of Saint Nick that we know today was in fact created by Coke advertising in the ‘30s—they are completely fair, according to Massimo d'Amore, CEO of PepsiCo Beverages America. As he explains in an Advertising Age article, "Hyper-competition is always good to sell more soda…everybody wins when we get into the cola wars." As evidence, he cites the case of Pepsi Max and Coke Zero, which, after some comparative Pepsi Max ads last year, have both posted increasing sales and also both made it on to our list of top Beverage Buzz improvers for the first half of 2011.
And BrandIndex data for 18-34 year-olds shows d’Amore not to be half-wrong: perception of both brands appears to be doing very well since the beginning of the campaign. While Pepsi has gotten a considerable lift in Buzz, Coke’s score—third highest among beverages for the first half of 2011—has remained steady at what was already a very good level. Before the ads hit on June 27, Pepsi’s Buzz score was between 25 and 35. Within a week, it had crested 70 and now remains well above 50. In the entire three week period, Coke’s Buzz score, on the other hand, has hovered between 60 and 80. Santa Claus’ vacation has been, for the time being at least, refreshing to all.
Pepsi and Coke were measured using the YouGov BrandIndex’s Buzz score, which asks respondents: “If you’ve heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?”