As soon as you hear the ukulele, you know the glockenspiel is coming. Young, flannel-clad friends carry knapsacks through a sun-drenched meadow. We soon find them drinking soda from green cans in an impromptu tent beneath shady trees. Animated boutiquey text boasts the lack of high fructose corn syrup and 30% fewer calories. Laughter and hugs.
This is the ad for Pepsi’s new product, Pepsi True. Sweetened with Stevia extract, it has only 60 calories and comes in a slim 7.5oz, jungle-green can. On their website, PepsiCo claims that they are “helping consumers get back to the fun and refreshing side of cola with the U.S. launch of Pepsi True.” However, as much as we were all missing cola’s fun and refreshing side these days (she’s been getting teased by those mean ol’ nutritionists), Pepsi is just following closely in the footsteps of their biggest rival.
In August, two months before Pepsi announced Pepsi True, Coke released Coca-Cola Life, which also uses a combination of stevia and sugar and also comes in a green can, although I’d say it’s more of an army-green. When put next to each other, it’s easy to see the similarities in product name and packaging. Perhaps this is just the future of soda. All consumers need that perfect mid-calorie refreshment to enjoy in their impromptu tents.
So let’s talk about True and Life. These are pretty big names for a product you might order with a sandwich. We’ll start with True. On the surface, true connotes factual and real. It’s what’s really going on, but it also has more subtle meanings. For example, a true carpenter has earned his title as a carpenter by creating masterful wooden crafts. An arrow that flies true travels perfectly straight. With True, we get a nice combination of genuineness and a craftsmanship that earns the product its name. Pepsi is saying that they have perfected the beverage, creating a true cola. However, despite the positive connotations with True, this name may inadvertently undermine Pepsi’s other drinks. Are those Pepsi False? You mean they’ve been lying this whole time? Smart brand architecture allows each product name to coexist and support the company’s other products. True leaves the new soda somewhat at odds with Pepsi’s other colas.
What about Life? This name feels even more quixotic than True, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hyperbole is trendy. Just think about the language we use. These tacos are awesome. Modern Family is amazing! This cat video will change your life forever. Coke has an answer to our oldest question. What is life? The new soda is screaming the answer, “life itself!” Coca-Cola Life, packaged in its green can that looks like it might just sprout leaves if you left it out in the sun, hinges on nature for its image. Some of the labels even display a budding plant, claiming “sweetness from natural sources.” Coke, the old standby, condemned for unnatural additives, is now telling us that it has found harmony with nature and distilled it into a refreshing beverage. Life is looking out into the forest of choices and choosing the right one, the one that leaves you in perfect balance. Coke has already propelled this image with shrewd advertising, like an image of the soda being carried in from a field in a wooden produce box. This is the life.
Pepsi True and Coke Life are similar products, and although their names and marketing strategies are also similar, I think Coke has an edge. Pepsi makes us think about authenticity when we’re drinking a soda that we already understand can’t be very good for us. That’s a slightly unsettling feeling. Coke turns our attention to a fundamental connection: the interdependency of life on Earth. Is that a stretch? Absolutely. That’s life.
Pepsi True: B
Coca-Cola Life: A-