Mr. Bilal is an agronomist student at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. He has been writing blogs on national and international politics and international relations since 2017.
“The business enterprise has two and only two basic functions: marketing and innovation,” said Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management. Nevertheless, what happens if someone does both of them brilliantly? Coke Studio in Pakistan is the result of these two functions coming together in harmony
It does not matter how big or small the capital you have used is; what matters is your authenticity and how you reach and target your customers in ad campaigns. For Coca-Cola, authenticity was never an issue; it always came down to marketing.
Coca-Cola and Music were never strangers to each other. Their relation dates back to 1900 when the famous hall singer and model, Hilda Clark, validated the brand during its initial launch with printed ads. To this day, the brand, rightfully, remains on the priority list.
In the United States, Coca-Cola controls a 49.3% share in the soft drink market whereas, its nearest rival—PepsiCo—controls 24.1%. Nevertheless, Coke is not a market leader everywhere, especially not in South Asia, where market dynamics are entirely different. These two giants hold the record of one of the biggest market rivalries in history. This rivalry is commonly referred to as the “Cola Wars”.
The competition started right away when pharmacist Caleb Bradham invented the formula of Pepsi in 1893, just seven years after the launch of Coca-Cola. He had it registered and started selling the drink across North Carolina in 1903. By 1910, Pepsi was being sold in a total of 24 states.
Bradham wasn’t a businessman so the company went through bankruptcy in 1923 and 1931—twice in a single decade— and was handed over to various selling hands. An interesting fact is that Charles G. Guth, who bought the company after the second bankruptcy, tried to sell his company to Coca-Cola but Coca-Cola wasn’t interested. Who knew after a few decades, this very brand will shake the market, which Coca-Cola held so dear, from top to bottom.
In the 60s, Pepsi took a bold step, and instead of focusing on taste, it started running campaigns to promote the drink as a youth staple, something it has continued to do. The slogan “Pepsi. For Those Who Think Young” was the first step.
In the 80s, while Coke was using American singer/ songwriter Paula Abdul, Pepsi was benefiting from Micheal Jackson as the face of the brand. “The Pepsi Challenge”, announced in 1975, offered people at public places to blind-taste two cold drinks—one Coke, and one Pepsi. Surprisingly, this bold and risky marketing move went in Pepsi’s favor; even the studies conducted by Coca-Cola, internally, confirmed that people preferred Pepsi over Coke.
On the other hand, Coca-Cola’s “New Coke” proved to be a disaster and soon Pepsi announced that it had won the Cola War, which was never proven entirely true. The battle, however, went on and Pepsi even tried to steal its way into cricket and football world cup sponsorships, usually held by Coca-Cola.
In 1983, Pepsi’s “New Generation” ad campaign, sung by Micheal Jackson, skyrocketed Pepsi’s sales, making it one of the most successful campaigns of its time. The ad was watched by 97% of Americans “more than a dozen times”. 1993’s “I’ll be there” was the last Pepsi commercial featuring Micheal Jackson.
Famous musician Billy Joel referred to this rivalry in his 1989 song, “We didn’t start the fire”, as “Rock & Roller Cola wars”. ”Music is a part of our DNA,” said Dave Burwick, the Senior Vice President and the Pepsi Cola marketing Chief in North America, in 2002 when Pepsi struck a deal with Sony Music.
Around the same time, Coca-Cola was sponsoring “American Idol”. It was a huge success with 14 million viewers in the first season, resulting in Coke continuing to sponsor it. At one point, the brand was investing $30 million in Idol. Although the marketing budget perpetually decreased for various reasons.
Pepsi as a Regional Market Leader
As mentioned earlier, Coca-Cola is not the market leader in many regions and states, Pakistan included, because by the time it considered Pakistan as a market, in 1996, it was too late. Pepsi had already established partnerships with seven local bottlers and knocked out British and Australian players in the beverage market 17 years ago.
In Pakistan, music and cricket were the two foremost important spots to target the youth. Pepsi has been sponsoring Pakistani cricket and music since the age of Imran Khan, Junoon, Vital Signs, and Strings. This is something people in Pakistan are well familiar with.
“Pepsi used to own anything and everything, from cricket players, teams, stadium brandings, music albums, bands, concerts, integration of music in commercials, Pepsi was everywhere,” recalled Nadeem Zaman, Coca Cola’s former Marketing Director and the founder of Coke Studio, in a Podcast.
“Coke had just 15% market share in the beverage industry in Pakistan when I joined, while Pepsi had 80%. We were a small company compared to Pepsi,” added Zaman. This was the point when Coke Studio arrived in Pakistan to turn things a little upside down for Pepsi; although Pepsi is still the market leader, it did change a lot.
Coke Studio: A Phenomenal Success in Pakistan
Coke Studio, a phenomenal entertainment and marketing success, is watched in 186 countries and has more than 3.89 billion views across social platforms on just season 7. Its YouTube channel—ranked the 3rd largest in Pakistan—has 2.2 billion views and has boosted Coca-Cola’s revenue like never before.
Coke Studio has been recognized by Forbes for breaking the geopolitical border in South Asia. One can easily observe the social media responses and notice how it has helped in gathering people, not just from the sub-continent but from across diversified cultures and ethnicities, under the umbrella of music.
It makes one wonder how something that originated in a Brazilian concert transformed into Coca-Cola’s most valuable music asset spreading across Asia and Africa, engulfing more than 20 countries? What made this idea a success?
The objective of marketing campaigns is always to connect with the customers emotionally. There is no better way of communicating your brand’s message to customers than having their favorite artists and musicians do that for you. An average American watches almost 4,000 to 10,000 ads in a day; one can try to stand out in them but for real success, he has to do better than that.
When it comes to music, the average American listener spends 32 hours every week listening to music. This means, on average Americans spend 4 to 5 hoursevery day on music; for Pakistan, this figure stands around 1.45 hours.
Coke Studio merged not just two genres of music—Folk & Sufi—with modern music in Pakistan but rather it merged two different worlds. One symbolized heritage and tradition while the other implied freshness and advancement. Therefore, it didn’t matter what kind of taste in music you had, you listened to Coke Studio at least once in your life.
When it comes to the market effect of Coke Studio in Pakistan, Express Tribune cites a Wall Street Journal report and writes, “As of July 2010, Coke claimed 35% of all cola sales in Pakistan while Pepsi’s market share was 65%, down from a dominant 80% in the 1990s that it mainly gained by sponsoring cricket.”
Tribune further states that in the year of 2012, Coca-Cola experienced a 23% volume growth in Pakistan and its “Pakistan arm earned over Rs.50 billion in revenues for the financial year ending in June 30, 2012.”
Obviously, there were other factors involved in the significant success of Coca-Cola in Pakistan. Nevertheless, there is no doubt about Coke Studio’s major role in introducing Coke to the young population of the country, which accounts for 64% of the population.
A Two-Way Street: Resurrecting Pakistani Music
Up until this moment, the focus has been on how music influenced brand strategies and ensured the success of market rivals but it’s a two-way street. In a country like Pakistan, these brand sponsorships meant a lot to dying music.
In the ’80s and ’90s, Pakistan had just two channels—PTV and NTM—one of them was owned by the government and dedicated a small amount of time to music. Regardless of that, a few bands and artists – Junoon, Vital Signs, and EP – still managed to grow internationally. From 2000 onwards, Pepsi proved a lifeline for bands in Pakistan, followed by Coke Studio.
Coke Studio forced the return of the nostalgic 2000’s “Pepsi Battle of the Bands”, and urged other multinational companies to follow its example. Nescafe Basement had the same approach but rather than getting successful artists on the show or organizing a competition, it went for the youth.
The bands and artists performed in concerts, featured in fast food brands’ commercials, and some, like the the band “Soch” and Hadiyma Hashmi, even had their songs featured in movies.
“Cornetto Music Icons” was the biggest talent hunt in 2013; it discovered a lot of great Pakistani musicians, like Natasha Baig and Zamad Baig. Zamad Baig skyrocketed to fame after winning Pepsi’s sponsored Pakistan Idol in 2014.
The telecom conglomerate Ufone, under the name of “Uth Records”, initiated another partially successful attempt. It featured artists from various ethnicities and parts of the country. However, the second season wasn’t able to fulfill public expectations.
Despite some criticism on “cover songs”, these brands managed to pull numerous artists from every corner of Pakistan to the spotlight in mainstream media. This two-way street between the brands and Pakistan’s music industry helped revive the lost music and talent of Pakistan. Since, it benefits both the brands and the industry, it has made it obvious that Pakistan is better off having such projects instead of nothing at all.
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