Pepsi Cola during the 1940’s – Niche Marketing

Developed 12 years later, (in the late 1800’s) it seems Pepsi Cola has always nipped at the heels of Coca Cola. In fact there are three occasions between 1922 and 1933 that Coca-Cola was offered the opportunity to purchase Pepsi, with Coke declining on each occasion.

Walter Mack served as the president of Pepsi-Cola Company from 1938 until 1951. Mack was far ahead of his time (and his peers) in recognizing the economic power of black consumers.

It was under his direction that Pepsi kicked off the “cola wars” with a focus on hiring African-American sales executives. He began by hiring Herman Smith in 1940, who was an ad man “from the Negro newspaper field” to help promote Pepsi in African-American communities. By 1948 there were 12 African-American executives selling Pepsi nationwide from corporate headquarters. Remember, this was during the pre-civil-rights era.

While Walter Mack opened the door, it was the sales rep’s responsibilty to break down the color barrier in a largely segregated country. The team was let loose with very little training and few resources for long days of grass-roots efforts. Talking to families, churches, USOs, and this after days of  sitting in the back of buses, or riding in separate train compartments.

The Pepsi team created advertising that for the first time celebrated African-American leaders in their fields. In 1952, a year after Pepsi’s special-markets team was broken up, The Wall Street Journal finally recognized the value of the black consumer market.

Many of the original members of the Pepsi team went on to accomplish great things. Assistant sales manager Edward Boyd became a mission chief at aid agency CARE, Harvey Russell stayed with Pepsi and in 1962 became the first African-American vice president of a major U.S. corporation. One became a Foreign Service officer, another the director of the Urban League.

As a side-note, the young boy in the advertisement above is Ron Brown. Ron Brown grew up to be Secretary of Commerce under Bill Clinton.

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