Coke and Pepsi, a tale of two English footballers

Coca-Cola became badly unstuck over its deal with Manchester United football star Wayne Rooney when his extra-curricular activities ‘forced’ the company to drop him as the face of Coke Zero.

Arch-rival Pepsico meanwhile is profiting mightily from one of his predecessors at Man U, David Beckham, now plying his trade in the US for LA Galaxy.

Beckham’s best days as a footballer may be behind him but his popularity seems to increase (he’s even been invited to today’s Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton unlike, bizarrely, former UK prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown).

Both soft drinks giants are struggling with the sales of sugary drinks in the US and their job won’t be made any easier if the Obama administration’s proposed curbs on advertising unhealthy products to children come into effect (they’re scheduled for 2016).

This makes products like sugar-free Coke Zero and rival Pepsi Max vitally important to their fortunes. Pepsico has just revealed that Pepsi Max sales soared by 130 per cent in the US over the last year even as its flagship standard Pepsi brand slipped to third place behind Coke and Diet Coke.

Which is why they’re so keen to sign up fit, healthy, clean-living footballers to promote sugar-free fizzy drinks around the world.

But clean-living and football aren’t natural bedfellows as Coca-Cola and Rooney have discovered (Rooney probably knew already).

Beckham has had his moments du scandale too, most notably an alleged (and denied, by him) affair with Madrid PA Rebecca Loos a few years ago.

But by and large he succeeds in keeping his nose clean and there’s no doubt that Pepsico got a better deal than Coca-Cola.

The fact that he’s also an unaffected and natural performer (and good-looking to boot) clearly helps as well.

Rooney is ten years younger than Beckham so has enough time ahead of him to try to emulate his former England colleague. He’s still a big factor in Nike ads (who long ago realised that when it came to badly-behaving sportsmen they just had grin and bear it). Beckham, of course, performs for Adidas.

One of the interesting things about Beckham (who may well become Sir David Beckham quite soon, possibly around the time WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell becomes Lord Sorrell) is just how long can he keep going?

Clearly, at 35, he’s not going to be even a second-rank footballer for that many more years. Will his appeal for the likes of Pepsi and Adidas stretch into retirement? Or will we be seeing him as the new face of Saga?

By which time of course old Goldenballs will be so damned rich he’ll be able to buy his own company and appear in its ads if he so desires.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.