Pepsi and Coca-Cola both thought they had a winner: that familiar fizzy cola they were famous for, with a twist.
Cherry cola was the newest flavour on store shelves. But Pepsi got there first, and in the highly competitive soft drink market, being first was everything.
“Cherry Pepsi has beaten Cherry Coke to the market in Winnipeg, as it did in Vancouver and Edmonton,” said reporter Michael Vaughan for CBC’s Venture on Nov. 10, 1985.
“In the battle for the hearts and minds and soft drink money of the 12- to 17-year-old crowd, Cherry Pepsi has scored first.”
‘Number one and it’s moving’
When Pepsi got wind that Coke was developing a cherry flavour, they hustled to make their own cherry product in a matter of just five weeks.
They also had TV ads ready to go, one of which was excerpted on Venture to demonstrate the company’s commitment.
Pepsi’s mission even had a code name: Operation Rambo, named for the Sylvester Stallone character in the 1982 and 1985 First Blood movies.
Store by store, Pepsi was determined to beat Coke. Venture was there as Pepsi sales representative Derek Joseph tried to negotiate with a store manager for shelf space.
“Cherry Pepsi, number one and it’s moving. I gotta get more space,” said Joseph, who was angling to poach eight feet from Coke.
When the manager offered four feet instead, Joseph adjusted his pitch.
“Let’s start off at six, and maybe we can work that extra two feet in,” he said.
Soon Cherry Pepsi was outselling Cherry Coke two to one in the store.
‘It doesn’t make one bit of difference’
“You do get a competitive edge by being out first,” said Pepsi CEO Clive Minto, after taking a long sip of his product before the CBC camera. “You get … the lion’s share of the consumer attention.”
But Candace Innes, vice president of marketing at Coca-Cola, dismissed Pepsi’s stunt.
“The jump was a matter of hours, and it doesn’t make one bit of difference in the consumers’ minds when it comes down to a matter of hours.”
“We’re not only going to win the cola war in total,” said Minto. “We’re also going to win the cherry battle.”