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How Pepsi won the Quebec Cola Wars

 

Coke%20vs.%20Pepsi.jpg

 

By René Bruemmer, The GazetteJuly 11, 2009

 

MONTREAL - Pepsi had a major problem. More specifically, Pepsi had a major Quebec problem.

 

After decades of protracted Cola Wars, the perennial challenger was finally making some headway on Coke in 1984, which outsold Pepsi four-to-one in Canada in the early ’70s. Waves of successful marketing campaigns, including the long-running “Take the Pepsi Challenge” taste test, helped bring Pepsi up to parity with Coke in English food stores in Canada by 1980.

 

Except in Quebec, which was jarring because the province had long been associated with a fondness for Pepsi – so much so the corporation’s first bottling plant outside of the U.S. opened in Montreal in 1934.

 

Yet the corporation’s latest rebranding campaign, “The Choice of a New Generation,” backed by global superstars Michael Jackson, David Bowie and Madonna, was falling flat in Quebec. In 1984, according to a report compiled by the Canadian Congress of Advertising, Pepsi had stalled at 87 per cent of Coca-Cola’s share in a province that imbibed 25 to 30 per cent of all the soft drinks in Canada.

 

Marketers decided to embark on a risky, expensive and unorthodox scheme: abandon Michael Jackson and develop an advertising strategy that would reflect the distinct society’s cultural differences, sensibilities and sense of humour.

 

Riskier still because while Pepsi had been adopted as a self-effacing term by some Quebecers, it was also a derogatory slur used by non-francophones to describe them. If the marketing plan was seen as offensive, Pepsi could become a pariah.

 

Being No. 2 had its advantages, however, noted University of Ottawa marketing professor Luc Dupont.

 

“As the constant David, Pepsi was condemned to take risks, which made it more inventive, forced it to rely more on its intelligence,” he said.

 

Pepsi would stake its multimillion-dollar offensive on a local comedian and his coterie of bizarre characters.

 

In exchange, Quebec would become, and remain, one of the few places in the world where Pepsi has conquered the king of pop.

 

***

 

Pepsi is celebrating its 75th anniversary in Quebec this year, in conjunction with the opening of the Montreal plant in 1934. It’s rolling out a new logo and ad campaign, one of more than a dozen branding changes over a history that dates back to 1898.

 

It’s also putting $40 million into its Montreal bottling facilities, one of several plants in the province employing a total of 1,200 people. That investment, along with large amounts of money spent sponsoring sports and culture (among them the Colisée Pepsi arena in Quebec City, and the Pepsi Forum in Montreal) is another key to its success, says Éric Blais of Toronto-based Headspace Marketing, which advises companies on how to reach the Quebec market.

 

“They have become part of the cultural landscape, both through marketing and direct involvement in the province,” Blais said.

 

Despite the fact it was created only 12 years after Coke, Pepsi remained a constant second, staking its market share largely on the fact it was distributed in larger, reused beer bottles and offered more fizz for the buck (actually a nickel for a 12-ounce bottle in the Depression era).

 

But being the underdog allowed it to take chances. In the 1940s it became one of the first corporations to use a realistic black family in its ads (as opposed to Aunt Jemima), and hired a black manager for all-black sales teams that would target the huge niche market of African Americans, despite virulent opposition from within and outside of the company, including the Ku Klux Klan.

 

But in the 1980s the New Generation offensive – meant to lure young drinkers who would make Pepsi their habit – was tanking here.

 

Standard marketing practice would have been to tweak the campaign by translating it into French and using some of Quebec’s many popular rock stars.

 

Instead, the J. Walter Thompson company relied on qualitative research and decided go with a different selling point – comedy.

 

“Young Quebecers in the 1980s ... were crowning their own celebrities and creating their own made-in-Quebec lifestyle,” wrote the J. Walter Thompson company in a submission to the Cassies, the Canadian Advertising Awards. “Research revealed an inner confidence among Quebec target groups. ...

 

“Since Quebec was culturally unique, it had developed its own entertainment system complete with its own stars,” especially in the comedy milieu. “It was a style of comedy that used typical Quebecois stereotypes to redefine the emerging new ‘street-smart’ culture of young, urban Quebecers.”

 

Claude Meunier, famous for his absurdist humour on Ding et Dong television skits, was chosen.

 

The theme of Meunier’s ads remained an intractable joie de vivre and an undying love of Pepsi. His brief, 30-second spots debuting in 1985 and featuring a variety of characters and a humour only Quebecers could appreciate became an instant hit.

 

Pepsi came almost neck and neck with Coke the same year. By 1986, David had surpassed Goliath and continued to thrive, despite the fact Coke fought back, outspending Pepsi two-to-one on six media campaigns between 1985 and 1993.

 

“Quebecers had the sentiment that a multinational corporation finally took the trouble to try and understand them, using the same language, with the same accents,” Dupont said.

 

A nation moored in a sea of English could empathize with company fighting for purchase in an ocean of Coke.

 

“Subconsciously, Quebecers identify with products that are No. 2,” Dupont said. “In addition to the absurd humour and joy of life, they like to say, ‘We’re different here. We changed things.’ ”

 

The Meunier campaign would last 18 years, aided by the fact Meunier became the star of La Petite Vie, an early ’90s Quebec sitcom watched by 4 million out of a possible 6 million viewers every Monday night. The Meunier Pepsi campaign won the 1993 CASSIE Best of Show advertising award.

 

***

 

Today, Coke dominates the global market with 51 per cent of the total sales compared with Pepsi’s 22 per cent, according to John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest.

 

But in Quebec, the Pepsi stable of soft drinks owns 61 per cent of the market to Coke’s 20, said Manon Lavallée, market development manager for PepsiCo Canada. It’s a dominance unseen anywhere else in North America, although Pepsi does nudge out Coke by a slight margin in the Atlantic provinces and a few states. (Coke officials told The Globe and Mail recently the gap is not that large in Quebec when restaurant, hotel and sporting events sales are factored in, but did not give specific numbers.)

 

Twenty-five years after Meunier started with Pepsi, he’s still there, although in a lesser role, shifting to Diet Pepsi.

 

Pepsi opted for a new campaign to speak to a new, multicultural generation of Quebecers in 2003, featuring five young men extolling the unique elements of Quebec (poutine, potholes, moving day and here we say “icitte," not “ici”) under the banner “Ici, c’est Pepsi.” In the rest of the world, it’s Coke.

 

Which is remarkably similar to Molson Canadian’s I Am Canadian ad campaign that focused on Canada’s uniqueness vis-a-vis the U.S.

 

“Pepsi’s ad campaign allowed us to feed that image of ourselves as different," Dupont said. “Even though in fact, we are not so different.”

 

The Pepsi Meunier campaign is taught in textbooks now, Dupont said, a lesson in how to adapt to your market, and change with the time.

 

In its submission for a Cassie award, members of the BBDO Canada marketing firm responsible for the Ici campaign wrote: “The driving force behind Pepsi’s Quebec success was Claude (Meunier’s) unique ability to show that Pepsi is a natural companion to Quebecers.” For the Ici c’est Pepsi campaign, consumers in test market groups “told us Pepsi is part of the fabric of Quebec life and they should be damn proud of it.”

 

The Ici spots, said Chris Hamilton of Pepsi in Strategy Magazine, tested in the top two per cent of all ads ever tested in Quebec. The campaign won a 2005 Cassie.

 

“The ads gave a sense of belonging, the pride in being distinctive,” Blais said. “They tapped into that sentiment of being proud of being the only place in the world where Pepsi is No. 1.

 

“It said ‘We stand on our own, we are distinct.’ ”

 

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© Copyright © The Montreal Gazette

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Une entreprise qui fait l'effort de faire une mise en marché locale et une campagne de publicité distincte pour le Québec augmente significativement ses chances de succès.

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On peut aussi se rappeler la campagne de pub de Monsieur B pour Bell avec Benoit Brière qui est probablement la plus longue de l'histoire de la publicité. Le nombre de personnages créés par Benoit Brière ; le plaisir qu'on prenait à anticiper ses prochaines créations !!

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Toute ma jeunesse j'étais anti-Coke et pro Pepsi (je prenais du Pepsi Max même), mon père lui c'était le Coca-Cola all the way. Mais à 18 ans j'ai bizarement changé de goût et je suis devenu un fervent buveur de Coca-Cola. Mon père ma répondu que c'est parce'que j'étais maintenant devenu un homme et que le Coke à un goût plus mature...:silly:

 

 

Lequel des deux préférez-vous et pourquoi (anecdotes?) :rolleyes:

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