Who Is More Generous, Coke or Pepsi?

Perhaps you have seen Coke’s Arctic Home cause marketing campaign to preserve the polar bears’ habitat and combat climate change. This stunning campaign is continuing through the winter until the IMAX film To the Arctic is released this spring. It marks the first time in recent memory that Coke has tied itself to a national cause marketing campaign, perhaps a response to Pepsi’s oft discussed Refresh crowdfunding contest.

Says Coke: “Welcome to Arctic Home. Our goal, in partnership with World Wildlife Fund, is to raise awareness and funds to help create a safe haven for the polar bear—an Arctic refuge.”

Like many well-architected cause marketing fundraisers, it also leverages Coke’s extensive advertising reach to educate millions of consumers about the retreating Arctic climate. From billboard ads featuring Coke’s iconic polar bear creative (first introduced in 1922) to social media videos.

Coke also provided space on its can packaging to highlight the campaign. But Coke had a big issue with its initial white limited edition polar bear cans. People kept mistaking polar bear Coke cans for Diet Coke, causing Coke to pull the cans, and reissue a red version.

So how is the campaign doing? Dollar for dollar there is no comparison between Coke and Pepsi. Pepsi pledged $20 million to the various social media selected projects. Coke pledged $2 million to help fund the creation of a safe refuge, and will match up to $1 million in donations made by March 15, 2012. So far, $259,216 has been donated to World Wildlife Fund. Pepsi wins on most generous from a financial perspective.

Beyond Dollars

Yet, cause marketing does more than just raise money. Done right it should champion a cause and speak to a company’s culture.

Once you get to the Arctic Home site, World Wildlife Fund receives a significant amount of publicity. People resist change towards and fundraising for the environment, making it a tough cause. In a down economy, it’s much easier to focus on the humanitarian services.

Further, cola companies manufacturing processes create negative carbon and water footprints. So there is a bit of counterbalance to Coke’s effort.

The singular environmental cause with the unique polar bear focus is the big differentiator for Coke. The Arctic Home focus rings as authentic and true to Coke customers. Again, the polar bear is a long term icon of Coke. There is a clear theory of change in investment through habitat preservation and awareness. And Coke’s relationship with WWF is not a spur of the moment lark engineered to “do good.”

Says the company, “Since 2007, Coca-Cola has supported WWF Arctic research and conservation efforts. Our efforts have helped WWF carry out field work, as well as purchase polar bear trackers and research equipment. It’s through our work with WWF that we’ve learned how much is needed to help the bears. Today, we are taking our commitment to the polar bear to a whole new level.”

Conversely, Pepsi Refresh was criticized for its lack of theory of change, its negative impact on nonprofits, and a seemingly rudderless approach to cause investing (instead trusting the crowd). The stated purpose was to invest in America. As it evolved in 2011, Refresh evolved and focused its contests on the arts and music, communities, and education.


The ROI of Arctic Home has yet to be determined. Certainly, the packaging error with cans was an unexpected snafu, but overall the advertising campaign has continued with a focus on the Arctic.

Arctic Home’s clear call to action and singular purpose makes social impact measurement much easier than Pepsi. How many citizens will act within the campaign, and become more aware of how their actions negatively affect the environment?

With almost $20 million in the market place, Pepsi has done more financially, but does it matter? How has their money changed society? Measuring the impact of the many diverse projects funded by Refresh has been a challenge, and a job that has not been done in aggregate.

From a marketing and branding standpoint, Pepsi claims Refresh as a hit, generating more social media impressions than the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. However, Pepsi lost market share during the Refresh contest, with Diet Coke supplanting Pepsi Cola as the world’s number two cola product.

Coke clearly had more impact on the environment. Pepsi did more for every other cause sector. Based on the authenticity of the campaigns and theory of change, Coke probably did more for its long-term brand image, but this is certainly debatable.

What do you think? Who is more generous, Coke or Pepsi?