Social Media Is Latest Front of Cola Wars

Mike Snider, USA TODAY
Pepsi Pulse

The cola wars are escalating on the social-media front.

With its launch today of Pepsi Pulse, a pop culture destination on, the snack-food giant aims to be a major player in conversations on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites such as Pinterest.

Rival Coca-Cola is partnering with social-music site Spotify to add fizz to its own online presence. Spotify's music-streaming player will be integrated into Coke's 41-million strong Facebook page. Also in the works: a Coke app on Spotify's service.

Pepsi and Coke are among a multitude of companies buying into social media's ability to strengthen their brands. Consumers are 55% more likely to recall ads that include social-media components than non-social ads, according to a 2011 Nielsen survey. "Consumers are incredibly empowered, and what used to work to get their attention now needs a bit more thoughtfulness," says Brian Solis, principal analyst at the Altimeter Group and author of The End of Business as Usual.

Ads in TV and print remain part of their plans, but both are looking for more interactive engagement with consumers. "The future of branding now comes down to experiences more than ever," Solis says.

Pepsi Pulse will host a real-time top 10 pop culture ranking, and regular chances for consumers to connect with celebrities. Singer Nicki Minaj, for example, might urge fans to share pictures of their alter egos to create an online photo album, says Shiv Singh, global head of digital for PepsiCo Beverages.

Use of the Twitter hashtags "#LiveForNow" and "#Now" would reflect Pepsi's new "Live for Now" campaign theme. Those celebrity challenges, expected to occur as often as weekly, "are all about inspiring and getting consumers to live in the now," Singh says. "This is about integrating into pop culture in a meaningful way."

Pepsi has enlisted social-media optimization company SocialFlow to do the real-time analysis of pop culture conversations on Twitter, Facebook and other sites. Its findings will be used to create the pop culture ranking. Consumers can find the ranking on Pepsi Pulse, along with current pop culture coverage and stories that are generating buzz. Pepsi will have a major promotion on this Wednesday, aimed at driving traffic to Pepsi Pulse.

Coke is looking to Spotify to help it build on its Coca-Cola Music program, which last year included a 24-hour interactive studio session with rock band Maroon 5.

"We want to … have a sustained conversation around music with our consumers because it is an everyday passion point for them," says Joe Belliotti, director of global entertainment marketing for Coca-Cola. Coke and Spotify plan to make a splash during London's Olympic Games this summer. You'll see Spotify references on Coke packaging. Through the decades, Coke has sponsored radio programs and live concerts.

"This is just the next chapter in that evolution where you take the product and the services and social ability of Spotify and bring it into the Coca-Cola brand experience," he says.