It's late January in Cannes, and Mark Ronson is dressed like a White Stripe. Taking the stage at the MIDEM music conference, the producer wears a bright red oxford shirt with white buttons and black skinny jeans that flare at the ankle to reveal matching red socks peeking out of white suede loafers. Although the ensemble does seem to nod in Jack White's direction, it's really meant to pay homage to a music collaborator whose partnership with Ronson may provide him with even greater exposure than his collaborations with Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse.
Yes, Mark Ronson is dressed as a human Coke bottle.
This excerpt of the "Cola Wars" cover story is from Billboard
magazine's May 5, 2012 issue
To read the full story complete with the cola brands' executive teams,
the Mountain Dew Green Label Sound model, the history of cola music
and more order the single issue HERE
Ronson (@iammarkronson) is in town to talk "Move to the Beat," one of Coke's largest ad campaigns to date, created to support its sponsorship of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Ronson's original track, "Anywhere in the World" featuring Katy B, is the campaign's official anthem, and by the time it's finished Ronson will have traveled to Singapore, Russia, Mexico and the United States to turn the sounds of five Olympic athletes training in everything from archery to table tennis into a truly global dance track. (For Coke's Latin America plans, see Latin Notas, page 14.)
"This is the one shot for me. It may be the biggest exposure I have for a song," Ronson tells MIDEM panel moderator Ian Rogers of Topspin.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Argentina, Nicki Minaj is in the midst of shooting what will become a global ad campaign for Pepsi-the company's first-featuring her 2010 single "Moment for Life" as its soundtrack. It's a deal that will make her a worldwide spokeswoman and also give her enough fodder to fuel two songs' worth of material on her sophomore album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, including its title track (and trashing other rappers with the boast "The ad is global/Your ad was local" may be a hip-hop first).
Although footage from the shoot will quickly leak on YouTube, Pepsi will remain mum on the campaign's specifics until April 30, the day the company announces its new brand positioning initiative-the beginning of a five-year commitment to boost interest (and sales) for Pepsi's flagging flagship. Speaking with Billboard from the Manhattan offices of Pepsi's music agency Cornerstone just 10 days before the official debut, Frank Cooper (@f3cooper), PepsiCo chief marketing officer of global consumer engagement, is steadfast in his decision to hire Minaj as the global campaign's first artist spokesperson.
"Nicki has momentum. She's a maverick," he says (unintentionally referencing Sarah Palin). "She represents the kind of artist who's in the moment, making things happen on her own terms. We want to help her reinforce that and gain momentum in territories outside the U.S., and build in China where she doesn't have as much of a presence as she does here. We want to figure out a way to reach her fans and Pepsi consumers."
The dueling global campaigns are just the latest chapter in Coke and Pepsi's decades-old rivalry, which has included numerous failed flavors (New Coke and Crystal Clear Pepsi, anyone?), loyalty programs (the now-defunct Pepsi Stuff and still-active My Coke Rewards), singing-competition series ("American Idol" for Coke, "The X Factor" for Pepsi) and, most recently in the States, action sports (Coke's Mountain Dew challenger, Vault, was discontinued in 2011). Coke's use of music as a branding tool goes back to 1899, and though Pepsi's music strategy didn't kick in until the 1950s, by the '60s more than 150 original Coke jingles performed by the likes of the Who, the Supremes and Aretha Franklin wrestled for airtime with Pepsi songs from the Four Tops, Martha & the Vandellas and Jackie DeShannon (see story, page 23). The two companies have battled for supremacy in the pop music space just as they've battled on supermarket shelves, spending big as they do so. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are the most powerful presences in U.S. sponsorships, spending $330 million and $240 million, respectively, on entertainment and sports programs across all its brands, according to research firm IEG.
In spring 2011, the market-share wars among brand Pepsi, brand Coke and Diet Coke reached a feverish high when Beverage Digest reported that Pepsi had slipped to No. 3 behind Coke and Diet Coke for the first time, according to full-year sales from 2010. The high-profile slip was due in large part to Pepsi's marketing efforts behind the Refresh Project, a largely philanthropic effort that saw the brand sitting out the Super Bowl for the first time in 23 years and even shelving many music-related marketing programs in favor of issuing grants for consumer-generated marketing efforts.
"In retrospect, we would've loved for music to have been a bigger part of that," Cooper says of the Refresh Project. "We've been in the game for so long, we should have showcased that more."
That's why for the next chapter in the cola wars, the focus for both brands isn't just on music sponsorship, but on becoming a sustainable partner for the music industry at large. Last week, Coca-Cola announced a "global strategic partnership" with Spotify that will include a Spotify integration on Coke's Facebook page (where it's the world's most "liked" brand with more than 41 million fans) and Spotify shout-outs in Coke advertising. The deal follows in the footsteps of Coca-Cola's minority investment in Music Dealers, a music-licensing firm that is now helping source music for Coca-Cola's advertising in dozens of countries (including "Can You Feel It," a track by British group One Night Only that aired in more than 60 countries).
Pepsi is also prepping a 25th-anniversary campaign in mid-May for the rerelease of Michael Jackson's Bad that will include a series of remixes from superstar DJs like Diplo and A-Trak. Jackson, of course, famously struck a ground-breaking, multifaceted endorsement/sponsorship deal with Pepsi in 1983, and was also infamously burned by an accidental fire during a 1984 commercial shoot. And, coming later this year, is an initiative that Cooper believes will make Pepsi a "major player in the music ecosystem," one that has already led to discussions with heavy-hitters like Warner Music Group chairman/CEO of recorded music Lyor Cohen, Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine and Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge. Though Cooper's unable to talk specifics, what he is able to say suggests that Pepsi is looking to partner with labels in a major way: "The industry has certain market failures and structural gaps, so we're looking at how we might fill those, and see how those will open up opportunities to generate some revenue [for the industry]."
As touring continues to eclipse recorded music as the primary source of artist revenue, artists are growing more comfortable with working with brands on an endorsement or partnership basis to diversify their earnings. However, there is still a faction that sees companies like Pepsi and Coke as "a piñata they can just bust open and expect money to come out," says one label head who spoke with Billboard. Cooper hopes to change this with Pepsi's latest approach to music partnerships. "There's one set that's just looking for funding, where they basically come in with a ski mask. But what the labels are looking for is a company whose marketing affects their business and increases their exposure. That's where we're able to create real relationships."