The facts, as they are presented: There is Coca-Cola and there is Pepsi Cola. They have distinct tastes, but taste more similar to each other than either does to it’s zero-calorie counterpart. Nevertheless, Pepsi Max tastes more like Pepsi than Coke Zero tastes like Coke. In making that claim, Pepsi is conceding that Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola are very similar, so the reason to choose Pepsi Max over Coke Zero is not because it tastes better than Coke Zero per se, but simply because it tastes more like “cola” in general. In other words – by choosing to deliver this message through the dramatization of what would happen if a strict Coca-Cola product drinker (a Coke employee) drank a Pepsi Max – Pepsi is claiming that it’s product even tastes more like Coca-Cola than Coke Zero does. The message to the consumer? Brand loyalty is irrational. A product should be judged on it’s merits.
If that were all that is involved, there would be nothing wrong with this commercial. However – and probably because, in fact, neither zero-calorie product tastes enough like their full-calorie counterparts to get the consumer to accept one or the other on a merit analysis – Pepsi has decided to reinforce that message by pandering to popular social and political beliefs.
The Coke employee, innocently and appropriately, decides to sample Pepsi Max in order to see if it tastes like a full-calorie cola. Upon finding that it does, he cannot help but drink more than necessary. Presumably this is because Coke Zero – his exclusive drink – doesn’t taste enough like full-calorie cola and the desperation that has created within him makes the opportunity to extinguish his craving too inviting to resist. His need to taste real cola taste is so strong that he will risk his job and his reputation in order to satisfy it.
Why would someone do such a thing? Is it because, the fair-minded capitalist that he is, he admires his competitor’s superior achievement and is willing, even eager, to concede defeat? Pepsi paid quick homage to that traditional notion (the hand shake), and could have continued with it, but instead the explanation they provided is it’s modern opposite. Coca-Cola does not believe in fair play. Their success with Coke Zero – as the zero-calorie, yet full-calorie flavored cola – is not because it is such a thing, but only because, being a big corporation, they have used their magical power – that only big corporations have – to condition the consuming public to accept – against it’s will – their attempt at “zero-calories-full-flavor” as all that is possible. The dour, cynical personality expressed by the Coke employee is the dramatization of the widely-held Chompskan notion that consent is “manufactured.”
Or, did the Coke employee drink more Pepsi Max than he intended to because the quality of the product was so surprisingly, overwhelmingly satisfying that for a moment it didn’t matter who he worked for, he – as a person – was going to show that he liked what he liked; the consequences be damned? Pepsi also began to say that, and again could have continued with it, but provided an alternative explanation. People who work for Coca-Cola do not care about their personal integrity. They are the kinds of people who will readily subordinate their personal virtues – and even lie to you and attack you – for the sake of financial rewards. Thus, the success of Coke Zero has not been because it is, to date at least, the best, most honest attempt to achieve “zero-calories-full-flavor”, but simply because of their suppression of Pepsi. The attempt to destroy the evidence of the rottenness of this man’s soul, captured on the Pepsi employee’s cell phone, is the dramatization of the widely-held Keynesian notion that success is a zero-sum game.
Beyond all of this, however, the larger question to ask is why major corporations, who in fact are very capitalist in almost every aspect of their operations besides their public relations, resort to such tactics? The answer lies in the nature of a mixed, semi-free, semi-controlled economy. When everything from profit-margins to employee wages to the costs of raw materials are subject to political pull – and thus ultimately the mood of the culture – a company’s directors, who are only responsible for short-term results, are going to approve whatever they can in order to make sure that their company, and not their competitor’s, are the moment’s preferred organization. In short, this is pragmatism, and once it works it’s way down deep into the psyche of people at every level of society (as, judging from the nature of today’s commercials, it has), the long-term effects on a nation’s economy – that is, for every company, regardless of who is on top at the moment – can be nothing but negative.