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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Soda Wars: More "Intelligence" Needed

Having essentially given up soda in the new year, I feel like there's been lots of "pop" (we're in the Midwest, remember) in my life lately. From news of companies starting to make and market them as healthy to recent advertising of Nutrisoda as Good Soda, of course most of the talk is about moving the category into a less fat future.

Yet, AdAge tonight posted this interesting article about how the two biggest players in beverages (and carbonated soft drinks in particular) are in a possibly not-so-healthy competition for McDonald's "love." It seems that Mickey D's is currently conducting preference research in test markets that places Coca-Cola and Pepsi head-to-head. Well, almost head to head.

(Such an Aki photo)

From the looks of it, this isn't quite the Pepsi Challenge—the Coke will remain in the fountains while Pepsi will be offered in bottles and/or cans. Thus not only will the taste preference be swayed by the method of delivery, but also a variety of other factors—which leads to host of other questions: Will a fixed quantity benefit Pepsi as consumers feel a lack of self control when offered "free refills"? Will people feel more comfortable/safe drinking from the sealed closed package because the trust the Pepsi factories over the McD's employees responsible for mixing the fountain drinks? Or more likely, will the bottle completely win at drive-thru due to spillage and flattening? Or will Coke hold strong as Pepsi is not part of combo meals due to price consciousness trumping health consciousness? You know that dollar menu is doing great. Speaking of price, I wonder how this will affect the Golden Arches profit margins? Isn't fountain soda the way the make their cash money? And what will be the impact of Arc's (the agency) promo materials for this new option?

Health and price consciousness aside, is there something about a McDonald's meal only really being complete with the visual appeal of a McD's branded cup on the tray or brought to your dinner table? Even as simple as color compatability of Coke and McDonald's vs. Pepsi? Okay, that may be stretching it, but I would like to know which of these or other factors they are taking into account and how they're measuring the results of this test.

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