How Coke Beats Pepsi: Top-Of-Mind-Awareness in Marketing

Coke vs Pepsi

Let’s play a game. Name the brands that pop into your mind when these five categories are mentioned:

Athletic shoes. Mobile phone. Beer. Lingerie. Soft drinks.

You probably answered the following, in order: Nike, iPhone, Budweiser, Victoria’s Secret, Coca-Cola.

Of course, answers may differ, but these product names manage to find their way to the top of your favorite product list for a reason: top of mind awareness (TOMA).

Top-of-mind awareness is a marketing term that refers to a brand or product’s ability to be the first thing that comes to a customer’s mind when they think of a particular product category or industry. 

TOMA is an important concept in marketing because it can help a brand to stand out from its competitors and increase the likelihood that a customer will choose that brand when they are ready to make a purchase. Anyway,

What is a brand?

A brand is a unique name, symbol, design, or other feature that identifies and differentiates a product, service, or company from its competitors in the marketplace. It represents the reputation and image of a company, as well as the values, promises, and benefits associated with its products or services. 

A successful brand helps build trust and loyalty with consumers, fosters recognition and awareness, and ultimately drives business growth and success. 

The very first brand that enters the mind of a consumer when they think of a certain product, niche, or industry has attained top-of-mind awareness. Although not all customers will recall the same brand, the results provide proof of which companies are the most popular within a sector. 

However, do take note that TOMA can also have negative connotations. The first brand that comes to mind, in most instances,  is one that people despise or that has just been involved in a scandal. Nevertheless, being “top of mind” is already a big plus for businesses.

The benefits of having high TOMA

  • Increased brand recognition: If a brand has high TOMA, it means that it is recognized and remembered by consumers. This can lead to increased sales and market share.
  • Competitive advantage: If a brand is the first to come to mind when a consumer thinks about a product category, it has a significant advantage over competitors who are less top-of-mind.
  • Reduced marketing costs: Brands with high TOMA may require less advertising and promotion to maintain their position in the market, as they are already well-known and easily recalled by consumers.
  • Better brand loyalty: Consumers who have a strong connection with a brand are more likely to remain loyal to that brand over time. If a brand has high TOMA, it may be able to build a stronger emotional connection with consumers.
  • Improved customer retention: If a brand is top-of-mind for consumers, they are more likely to remember it and purchase it again in the future, leading to increased customer retention.

Overall, having high TOMA can be a valuable asset for a brand, as it can lead to increased sales, brand loyalty, and a stronger competitive position in the market.

Explore our B2B Marketing Services: Lead Generation for B2B Brands in APAC

The Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi: The War on Top of mind awareness

You’ve been in this situation before You’re at a restaurant and order a Coke. The waiter suggests Pepsi as another option. Some people’s top-of-mind product would be Pepsi, and some would prefer Coke in the same manner. Changing brands, for some people, is utterly absurd.

You might wonder what pits the two brands against each other, though. One of the most popular, intriguing, and sometimes, personal product rivalries since product rivalries were documented were Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. 

These brands have both been jockeying for position as the “top-of-mind” product in the carbonated beverage business. The competition is so stiff it was dubbed the “cola wars”. For more than a century the two companies have tried to one-up each other in every marketing “P” there is product, price, promotion, positioning, packaging, place, and even people.

The long-standing rivalry between the two largest soft drink companies in the world, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo is referred to as the “cola wars”.

The competition between these two companies has been intense for decades, with each trying to outdo the other in terms of product innovation, marketing, and advertising.

The cola wars began in the 1970s when PepsiCo launched the “Pepsi Challenge,” a marketing campaign that challenged consumers to blind taste tests between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. This campaign was highly successful and helped to increase Pepsi’s market share significantly.

Coca-Cola responded with a new formula called “New Coke” in 1985, but the new formula was widely rejected by consumers and resulted in a major backlash. Coca-Cola quickly reintroduced the original formula, now known as “Coca-Cola Classic,” and the company’s market share began to recover.

The cola wars have continued to this day, with both companies launching new products and advertising campaigns to attract consumers. In recent years, the competition has expanded beyond traditional carbonated soft drinks to include other beverage categories such as energy drinks, bottled water, and sports drinks.

How Coca-Cola C.R.E.A.T.E.S. memories

The Secret of Coke Top-Of-Mind Awareness in Marketing

When buying something, consumers like to believe that they’re making informed decisions. Often, they justify what they buy by saying it was the “best deal” or it has the “best features”, may it be when purchasing a car, a designer bag, pizza, or soda. Regardless of the products they purchase, the decision-making process is the same: buyers choose products based on how high they rank in their subconscious. 

These rankings are often affected by numerous factors like quality and price. But of course, the human brain isn’t just hard-wired to make purely conscious choices. In fact, research shows that consumer behavior is driven by subtle unconscious factors like branding.

Branding is the process of creating a distinct name, symbol, design, and/or other attributes that distinguish and identify a brand, a product, or a service from other competitors in the market. The goal of branding is to create a distinctive and consistent identity that conveys the company’s mission, values, and personality to consumers and stakeholders.

A strong brand positioning builds customer loyalty, boosts brand awareness, and increases the perceived value of a company’s products and services. 

While the concept is pretty simple to grasp, the journey from being a mere brand to becoming a top-of-mind brand is more of an uphill climb. But if you know how the right approaches, you’ll get to the top and realize the view from there is a lot better. Ask Coke.

1. Consistency

In marketing, first impressions last. What makes customers fall in love at first sight with Coca-Cola is its packaging. This brand offers its classic beverage in a patented contoured bottle that resembles a coca sheath. 

Being unique in the market, the packaging itself is enough to serve as a silent salesperson. Coca-cola was championed as a top-of-mind awareness brand in this aspect of advertising, in such a way that its versatile and catchy packaging removed the need to externally convince people to buy the drink. When Pepsi was threatening to catch up, it changed its image just so Pepsi will have no choice but stick to the boring plain bottle.

Another thing that makes Coca-cola memorable, aside from its distinctive packaging is its consistency – that is, barely changing its bottle and logo for 100+ years. It achieved great popularity that in fact, a study done in 1980 revealed that “Coke” is the second most understood word in the world next to “Okay”.

Keeping these brand assets consistent for years works a groove into your customers’ brains – especially when they’ve seen your logo a couple of a hundred times. And the more your brand is remembered, the more likely it is that customers will buy it.

2. Repetition

If you want people to remember your brand and what you sell, telling them once or twice isn’t enough. You have to tell them a thousand times.

Coke First Ads (Photo:

When it comes to TOMA, consistency and repetition work as a dynamic duo. When you show someone the same logo countless times in 10 years, it becomes second nature. Nevertheless, if you show a consumer ten different logos over the span of 10 years, it is practically hard to generate memories since the brand is always changing in the customer’s mind.

That’s the reason why brands like Coca-Cola spend more than $4B annually on advertising that showcases those assets.

One of the finest examples of repetition in Coke advertising is the “Holidays Are Coming” advertisements, which debuted in 1995. People from across generations wait for these ads as the Holiday season begins to have the Christmas feels. The impact wouldn’t be this big if Coca-Cola only ran the ads for one or two years.

3. Emotion

The present-day consumer is continuously bombarded with advertisements and is better equipped for research. In such a facts-driven marketing world, how do you make your brand stand out?

Here’s the secret: By appealing to another important aspect of the consumer’s attention span and purchasing decision — emotion.

Studies reveal that emotion works like superglue in the sense that it makes information stickier. Hence, if you want people to remember your brand and your products, keep your strategies emotional.

How does Coca-Cola do it?

The classic, all-time favorite cola is renowned for “owning happiness,” spending billions of dollars to link the name to the happy emotion. For years, its taglines have emphasized joy, sensations, and emotions: 

  • 1979: Have a Coke and Smile.
  • 1989: Can’t Beat the Feeling.
  • 2001: Life Tastes Good.
  • 2009: Open Happiness.
  • 2011: Life Begins Here.
  • 2016: Taste the Feeling.

Aside from saying “happy”, its ads show happiness as well. Several Coke advertisements show cheerful people having Coca-Cola products while engaging in enjoyable activities like going on dates, dancing, or spending time at the beach.

But, they don’t simply talk and act happy. Through its experiential marketing strategies, such as the first vending machine in the world that traded hugs for Coke bottles, Coca-Cola wants consumers to feel happiness as well.

4. Attention

Attention is important for brands because it’s essential for their growth and effectiveness. Aside from getting your brand talked about or being noticed, it’s attention that gets you remembered. 

It is a key factor in attracting and engaging consumers. In today’s highly competitive market, where consumers are bombarded with numerous messages and advertisements, capturing their attention is essential for the success of a brand.

Here are some ways in which attention affects branding:

Brand Awareness: Attention is essential for creating brand awareness among consumers. Brands need to get noticed before they can be remembered or recalled. Effective branding strategies use various techniques to capture consumers’ attention, such as creative ads, distinctive logos, and memorable taglines.

Brand Differentiation: Attention also helps brands stand out from their competitors by highlighting their unique value proposition. By creating a distinct brand identity, companies can attract attention and establish themselves as leaders in their respective industries.

Brand Loyalty: Attention is also crucial for building brand loyalty. Consistent messaging and engaging content help keep the brand top-of-mind for consumers, leading to increased customer loyalty and repeat purchases.

Brand Advocacy: Attention can also help brands gain advocates who promote the brand to others. Positive word-of-mouth from satisfied customers can attract new customers, increasing the brand’s reach and influence.

In summary, attention is a critical factor in branding, and it plays a significant role in building brand awareness, differentiation, loyalty, and advocacy. Brands that can effectively capture and retain consumers’ attention are more likely to succeed in today’s competitive market.

Related: Customer-Centricity: At the Core of Successful B2B Marketing

Let’s see how Coca-Cola does it:

Coke’s red and white brand colors are undeniably catchy, thanks to their high contrast and brightness. Put them beside any other brand and you’ll still spot them from a mile away. 

Take a look at this salience analysis below. The red squares with numbers serve as indicators of the image’s most attention-grabbing areas.


However, the brand’s visibility isn’t solely due to its colors. Coca-marketing Cola’s stands out due to its simplicity. They don’t try to say too much in a single ad, and they never fill them with distracting clutter.

5. Time and Frequency

In the advertising context, frequency is defined as the number of times an advertisement is repeated through a specific period of time or the number of times a person is exposed to the advertisement. 

However, consistently playing your ads doesn’t always work. The messages you convey need time to sink in. As a matter of fact, leaving some time for customers to take in what they’ve seen before seeing these ads again is a more effective approach.

Coca-Cola’s approach to leveraging time and frequency demonstrates how critical it is for brands to stay top-of-mind with consumers by strategically timing marketing efforts and offering products that coincide with seasonal events and cultural celebrations.

These examples show how the brand lives up to this approach:

  • Seasonal Products: Coca-Cola offers seasonal products that are only available at certain times of the year, such as the Coca-Cola Christmas truck tour and limited edition bottles and cans featuring seasonal designs. By creating products that are specifically tied to certain seasons or events, Coca-Cola is able to generate interest and excitement among consumers, driving sales and building brand loyalty
  • Frequency of Advertisements: The brand uses a high frequency of advertisements across multiple channels, including TV, print, digital, and social media. This ensures that the brand remains top-of-mind for consumers, increasing the chances that they will choose Coca-Cola over other soft drink options when making a purchase.
  • Timing of Marketing Campaigns: It carefully plans the timing of its marketing campaigns to ensure they coincide with key events and holidays. For example, the brand often launches new ads and promotions around major sporting events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, as well as cultural celebrations like Christmas and Ramadan. By timing its marketing efforts in this way, Coca-Cola is able to tap into the excitement and anticipation around these events, generating buzz and driving sales.
  • Limited-Time Offers: Coca-Cola also leverages time-limited offers to create a sense of urgency and encourage consumers to buy. For example, the brand might release a special edition flavor or packaging for a limited time, or offer discounts and promotions that are only available for a short period. This approach not only boosts sales during the promotion period but also helps to build excitement and anticipation among consumers.

6. Experience

Experiential learning is a powerful way to deepen the understanding and engagement with a brand by providing hands-on experiences that go beyond conventional classroom learning or marketing research. 

This can be a very efficient approach for students, professionals, and even consumers to learn more about branding and how it can be utilized to elicit strong emotional connections with audiences. 

These experiences stick with your audience and easily become memories compared to random data. That is why experiential marketing is of utmost importance to brands like Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola is best known to leverage experiential marketing by creating memorable and immersive experiences for its consumers. The brand uses fun and interactive pop-up shops across different locations. For instance, Coca-Cola set up one of its pop-up stores in Australia where customers can customize their own bottles with names and personalized labels. This made consumers feel more connected with the brand on a personal level.

It also sponsors major events and festivals such as music festivals and the Olympics. By setting up branded lounges or locations where guests can take pictures with props and post them on social media, the company employs these sponsorship activities to provide participants an enjoyable experience.

Coca-Cola has sampling programs in place to give customers a taste of their products. For example, in London’s Waterloo train station, the brand set up a sampling program in which travelers were offered free samples of Coca-Cola products. This experiential approach aided in increasing product awareness and sales for the brand.

Last but not least, Coca-Cola has produced branded content to engage consumers in a more entertaining way, including movies and digital experiences. For instance, the company developed a virtual reality experience that allowed customers to peek inside a Coca-Cola vending machine. Customers could truly feel like they were a part of the brand because of this unique experience, which increased brand loyalty.

7. Storytelling

Storytelling is a crucial part of any brand’s marketing strategy, and Coca-Cola is one of those companies that make good use of this branding element. 

Telling stories are effective ways to establish emotional connections with consumers and communicate their history, values, purpose, and product identity. Coca-Cola has a rich and colorful history that dates back to the late 1800s. The brand has used its history to tell its story and create emotional connections with its customers. Coca-Cola frequently uses sentimental themes in its ad campaigns, such as the traditional Christmas ad featuring Santa Claus, to appeal to consumers’ emotions and instill a sense of nostalgia in them.

Coca-Cola has also used user-generated content to share its narrative and foster a sense of community among its customers. For instance, the company developed the “Share a Coke” marketing initiative, which allowed customers to buy Coca-Cola bottles with custom names on them. Social media was used as a platform for customers to share pictures and stories of their customized bottles, fostering a sense of belonging and shared experiences around the brand.

The brand also used product storytelling to give its products a distinctive personality. For instance, the business has produced various Coca-Cola variants, including Coca-Cola Classic, Diet Coke, and Coca-Cola Zero, each with its own distinct narrative and positioning. Coca-Cola also uses a narrative to explain the provenance and caliber of its goods, including the usage of natural ingredients and the business’s dedication to sustainability.

Lastly, Coca-Cola has also employed storytelling to convey its mission and core beliefs. The company has started social and environmental awareness programs, such as the “World Without Waste” effort, which aspires to build a sustainable future for the earth. Coca-Cola is able to forge a stronger emotional bond with customers who hold similar values by sharing tales about its purpose-driven projects.

Coke Consumers

Photo Credit: PopandRoll

What made Coca-Cola win both the Cola Wars and its avid consumers that spanned deceased and countless generations? Human touch.

Its marketing campaigns, slogans, and advertisements are more appealing to emotion and tugging at the heartstrings. It placed a high value on family, friendships, and relationships. Coke realized that in order to be top-of-mind, you must first be top-of-heart.

For B2B brands and businesses in the modern-day digital economy, however, being top-of-heart won’t be enough to attract customers and engage and capture their interest. 

Partnering with lead generation experts like Callbox can help you maximize the opportunities that come your way and generate quality leads that convert to profits. 

Callbox is the premier B2B lead gen service provider in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. Operating since 2004, our team earned a reputation as a leading player in the B2B lead generation industry. Throughout the years, they have successfully assisted numerous businesses in achieving growth and success.

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