What Are The 'Cola Wars' In Pepsi, Where's My Jet?

The new Netflix series "Pepsi, Where's My Jet?" has reignited discussion about the so-called "cola wars," which riveted the world during the 1980s and 90s. According to the official Netflix trailer for the docuseries, Pepsi "needed something huge" in an effort to narrow the margin between the two soda giants.

If you haven't yet binged the series, the brand came up with a promotional campaign in which consumers could earn points for prizes of all sizes and price points. Well, the powers-that-be at Pepsi thought it would be tongue-in-cheek to offer a Harrier jet for anyone who accrued seven million points. They considered it "a joke," however an enterprising college student accepted the challenge, eventually resulting in a major legal battle, as well as quite the entertaining streaming series for the rest of us.

This debacle was likely the pinnacle point of the cola wars, largely waged between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. To some, this was an ultimate turning point in favor of Coke products, a war that the company continues to dominate today if sales are any indication. In fact, although PepsiCo technically makes more money every year than Coca-Cola, a lot of that is to do with the fact that the company owns a lot of huge brands, like Frito-Lay (Cheetos, Sun Chips, Doritos, etc.)

But in soda-only terms, Coca-Cola is valued at $33.2 billion as of 2021, whereas Pepsi's soft drink lines are "only" worth $18.4 billion, according to a report by Brand Finance.

The cola wars of decades past

Although it is now evident that Coca-Cola long ago pulled away from the competitive pack of fellow soda purveyors, their status wasn't always so clear-cut. In fact, in 1975, Pepsi launched a taste test campaign that appeared to show that blindfolded, customers preferred their product against Coke's, as reported by Yahoo.

Coca-Cola, however, smartly accepted this challenge, and began to introduce new products, like Diet Coke and caffeine-free options. Many years down the road, the decision paid off when in 2010, Diet Coke passed Pepsi to attain the number two spot in terms of sales (before that, Coke held the number one spot, followed by Pepsi).

It also didn't help Pepsi along the way that many expensive celebrity endorsements just didn't pan out, says Business Insider. Madonna was a spokesperson for the brand at the time when her "Like a Prayer" video was released, which caused major controversy in religious communities. Singer David Bowie had just been instated as a spokesperson when he was accused of sexual assault, and Michael Jackson was actually seriously burned by pyrotechnics while filming an ad for the brand.

Then in the 1990s, there was the whole frenzy generated by syringes found in Pepsi cans, which had people questioning whether a soda was worth the risk of death. Many more shenanigans and campaigns make up these cola wars.

Although Coca-Cola is currently the front-runner, PepsiCo still cuts quite the influential figure, so there's no telling what sort of results the next battle campaign will bring.