Forever young – Pepsi’s first 75 years in Canada

As Pepsi gets underway with Q4 of its first century in Canada, strategy looks back at the first 75, how the brand successfully marked its anniversary – and what comes next.

Taking a look back at the first 75 years of Pepsi-Cola in Canada can’t help but trigger thoughts of the Cola Wars, one of the liveliest brand battles in Canadian marketing history. This rivalry with Coca-Cola has been around almost as long as Pepsi itself, so it would be natural to assume the battle had shaped Pepsi’s marketing activities.
In fact, from day one, Pepsi has taken an aggressive marketing stance that has been far from reactionary. Whether it was seeing the marketing potential that came with the end of Prohibition or being the first brand to launch a radio jingle back in 1939, Pepsi has been a leader rather than a follower.
Last year, in a show of the utmost cola cheekiness, Pepsi eschewed its traditional blue can in favour of a red and white, limited-edition can to celebrate its long-standing partnership with Hockey Canada by sporting the national team colours. Its Hockey Canada support also involved the “Join the Cheer/Cheer Nation” campaign.
Every era has its own design sensibility, and today’s is a very visual culture where people expect high design in the simplest things. So, in keeping with its history, Pepsi chose to celebrate its 75th year in Canada by completely refreshing everything – its brand, packaging, use of media and even its logo.
The tweaking of the logo changed its perspective from a “wave” to a “smile,” which Dale Hooper, VP marketing, PepsiCo Beverages Canada, says is a fitting new look for a brand fuelled by the spirit and optimism of youth.
“We refreshed everything from graphics to an updated philosophy and the way we think about media, how we’re going to connect with our broad consumer base on brand Pepsi – millennials all the way to boomers,” says Hooper.
Along with this revamp, there was a high-impact, multi-tiered marketing campaign designed to unite Pepsi with positive, like-minded people, inviting them to share and spread the joy – to “Joy it Forward.”
Last year for the first time, TV was no longer the central point of Pepsi’s media plan. The campaign reached consumers at all touchpoints from digital to TV, billboard, public transit, in-store and at the grassroots level. It also involved Pepsi’s first Facebook foray – the “Joy it Forward” fan page.
Hooper says the Facebook effort is one of the top consumer brand pages in Canada. “The whole thing was about consumers and fans engaging with us. Everything is different from the old days of finding a celebrity and making a TV ad. It’s much more integrated and engaging.”
How Pepsi connects with consumers today may differ from the past, but the company’s marketing strategy has always been about evolving and adapting to keep pace as its consumers changed with the times.
Roger Baranowski says that knowing Coke, which he refers to as the “red demon,” is out there everyday helps Pepsi keep its focus and its edge.
According to Baranowski, Pepsi group marketing director from 1982 to 1993, known for his strategic smarts and chutzpah, “you’d wake up in the morning and know who the enemy is, and whose life you were trying to make miserable.
“At that time our job was to position Coke as mainstream Americana and Pepsi as ‘The Choice of a New Generation’ – and when we said ‘new generation,’ we meant we’re not your father’s drink.”
Now semi-retired, Baranowski works on select projects and passes on his marketing knowledge – and great stories – to students at Centennial College. During his Pepsi years, he loved to needle the competition, making sure that when media was purchased, Pepsi bought the bus shelter outside the Coke head office.


When he launched the “Diet Pepsi Taste Drive” in 1988, a brand conversion effort where Diet Coke drinkers received Diet Pepsi taste packs, he made sure the president of Coca-Cola received the first one. To get the Pepsi bottlers fired up about Diet Pepsi, he had the Diet Coke logo painted on a building scheduled for demolition and then had them blow it up.
One of Baranowski’s favourite cheeky Pepsi moves was made in 1985 by Roger Enrico, then chairman and CEO of U.S. parent company PepsiCo. When Coca-Cola announced New Coke, Enrico put a full-page ad in newspapers around the world with the headline, “After 75 years of going eye to eye, the other guy just blinked.” Enrico then gave every employee around the world the next day off, says Baranowski, and they took it.
“The whole fight against Coke, the Cola Wars – you’d go home and pick up a magazine and there are Coke and Pepsi cans with boxing gloves fighting each other on the cover of Newsweek – you felt very much that you were part of that. It was a bloodless battle, but you got the same high as a result of it.”
And 1985 was also the year Pepsi’s share overtook Coke’s in Canada, in May.
Baranowski adds, “Pepsi’s success formula was in hiring very bright people and challenging them. They gave a lot of young people a lot of latitude, fair pay and let them loose. It’s the graduate school of business as far as I’m concerned.”
Advertising has always been an important part of Pepsi’s marketing efforts. In the 1930s, the company used print ads and in-store materials including eye-catching display units and ice coolers. It was also a bit of pioneer in its choice of media, launching the first musical radio ad in 1939, “Pepsi-Cola Hits the Spot,” and in the early ’40s, becoming the first Canadian manufacturer to use skywriting. The first documented “Pepsi Taste Test” took place with Dominion Textile workers in Montreal in 1942. It was so successful that Pepsi sponsored many other local taste tests.
In the 1950s, Pepsi switched its ad focus from taste to image.
Post-war consumers were interested in stability and luxury, so Pepsi’s modern swirl bottle, “The Light Refreshment” tagline and “the fine art of staying lovely” positioning were designed to appeal to elegant hostesses. To reflect that elegance, actresses Joan Crawford and Polly Bergen and, in Canada, model Joan Corbeil were shown as the faces of the brand.
Pepsi was one of the first brands to jump into TV advertising. In 1959, Canadian advertising manager Ted Fisher told Pepsi bottlers that if they wanted to continue to increase sales, they needed to move ad dollars into TV, a medium that could deliver the Pepsi message to a large national audience. The Canadian business grew by 162% in the ’50s, compared to 29% growth by the industry overall.
In the ’60s, Pepsi targeted baby boomers with a tagline shift from “Now it’s Pepsi for Those Who Think Young” to “Come Alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation.” “You’ve got a lot to live. Pepsi’s got a lot to give,” became the mantra for the ’70s, and in 1976, the taste test returned as the “Pepsi Taste Challenge.”
As Canadians got the message, the company adopted the slogan, “More and more every day, everywhere, Canadians are discovering the great taste of Pepsi.” To make the most of the “Challenge” momentum, Pepsi changed the message to “Look who’s drinking Pepsi now!”
Pepsi became “The Choice of the New Generation” in the ’80s, and the advertising took an upbeat turn with celebrity advertising starring Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Michael J. Fox and, in Canada, acts like Rough Trade and Triumph.


That’s about when Bob Shanks came in. As director of strategic planning at J. Walter Thompson in Toronto, he started  working on the Pepsi account with Baranowski right on the heels of the “Challenge,” near the beginning of the Claude Meunier campaign in Quebec (see sidebar, p. 64) and at the start of the celebrity advertising.
“This was a company that was really ‘ready, aim, fire.’ They took chances; they took risks. Real, educated risk-taking is a fair way to put it. And it was true marketing,” Shanks says. “What was the difference between Coke and Pepsi? Really, it was the marketing.”
Shanks, now a partner at Grip in Toronto, looks back daily at what he learned working on that business from 1989 to 1997. “It was such a great client-agency relationship that it becomes the benchmark as you go forward. That’s what I want to replicate [in] our agency structure and the way we think. It all goes back to the Pepsi business.”
Youth has been a central theme of the advertising from the start. Recently, “Be Young.  Have Fun. Drink Pepsi.” and “GeneratioNext” of the ’90s became “For Those Who Think Young” and “The Joy of Pepsi-Cola.”
Like its cheer campaigns in 2009, Pepsi’s upcoming 2010 Canadian marketing effort, with the tagline “Every Pepsi Refreshes the World,” reflects youthful exuberance and optimism. The current agency roster includes creative agencies BBDO Toronto, Capital C, TBWA and  Mark IV; media agency OMD Canada; digital agency Proximity Canada; promotional agencies OSL and CIM/Launch!; PR shops Praxis, High Road Communications and Fleishman-Hillard; lifestyle agencies SDI and Jetstar; and design shop Shikatani Lacroix.
The “Pepsi Refresh Project” is set to launch mid-April, says Hooper. It is designed to ignite and share the positive energy of the brand at the speed of the new digital culture, while enabling positive change around the world.
The next evolution of the “Joy it Forward” campaign, Hooper says the project is not about a big change-the-world moment, but rather a lot of small acts making the world a better place.
“This will be accomplished by awarding Refresh grants ranging from $5,000 to 100,000. Nine or 10 grants will be awarded every other month for 12 months. Everything this year is going to be about this program because it’s so big,” says Hooper.
Pepsi will give over $1 million in grants to Canadian community groups who submit an online application along with a business plan, timeline and budget detailing how they plan to move the world forward in one of six categories: the planet, neighbourhoods, education, health, arts & culture and food & shelter. Recipients will be provided with financial resources as well as a mentor or coach to help ensure all the projects are completed.
A robust 360-degree advertising campaign for the “Pepsi Refresh Project” will span national TV and radio, OOH, digital and mobile advertising, POS, grassroots initiatives, public relations and social media.
Hooper says that, going forward, PepsiCo Beverages will be focusing on four key brands: Tropicana, Aquafina, Pepsi brand and Gatorade.
To broaden its offering as consumers began to look for more variety in their beverage choices, Pepsi acquired Tropicana in 1998 and then Quaker and Gatorade in 2001. The beverage division merged with the new businesses and was renamed Pepsi-QTG Canada. In 2008, the businesses were again reorganized and PepsiCo Beverages Canada was formed, encompassing over 5,000 staff.
The new Tropicana “Brighter Mornings for Brighter Days” campaign launched during the Olympic closing ceremonies, and there are new initiatives upcoming for key brands like 7Up and Amp energy drink.
Hooper says PepsiCo is always looking for the right offerings for consumers. Today, one focus is on healthy options and products that support active living. The Aquafina+ with Vitamins product is the first in Canada to offer a natural sweetener from the stevia plant, which brings the calorie count down from 100 to 10. Pepsi has also announced it will take sugary drinks out of schools worldwide by 2012, a change the industry has already made here.
“The world has changed,” he adds. “Teenagers today drink a lot more juice products than they did 10 years ago. We’re watching that trend and will continue to innovate, anticipate and respond.”

Jump to:

Timeline – Pepsi in Canada: the first 75 years

The Cola Wars – the Cherry Pepsi coup

Pepsi in Quebec – deep roots