The Pepsi Generation


© History Oasis

As one of America's most iconic brands, Pepsi-Cola has long understood the power of lifestyle marketing targeted toward the nation's youth.

When the company launched its groundbreaking "Pepsi Generation" advertising campaign in 1963, it revolutionized soft drink advertising by selling an aspirational identity rather than a product.

This bold gamble on capturing the spirit of a rising generation paid off spectacularly, and numerous campaigns since have effectively aligned Pepsi with the self-image of youth culture across decades.


a Pepsi Generation ad with black folks
Source: PepsiCo

When Pepsi-Cola debuted its game-changing "Pepsi Generation" advertising campaign in 1963, the iconic slogan was not crafted in a Madison Avenue boardroom but was rather the creation of an ordinary midwestern housewife.

The campaign resulted from a nationwide slogan contest conceived by Pepsi's marketing team to complement their new youth-oriented image.

Out of the myriad entries, it was Wisconsin resident Ellen M. Reimer who struck advertising gold with her jingle “Come Alive! You’re the Pepsi Generation!".

The Appleton wife and mother won a new car and a place in advertising history with the catchy tagline that tapped perfectly into the zeitgeist of the rising “Generation Gap” between youth culture and the older establishment.

Pepsi built an entire branding strategy around Reimer’s slogan for years afterward, aiming to embody the young, vibrant spirit she had captured in just a few words.

Though it was destined to become one of the most famous campaigns ever, the origins of the “Pepsi Generation” were decidedly small-town.


a vintage Pepsi ad
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While Pepsi's famous "Come Alive! You're the Pepsi Generation" slogan may have come from an ordinary Wisconsin mom, the company knew it needed star power to bring the catchy jingle to life.

They tapped popular singer Joanie Sommers to debut the iconic song on the national airwaves in 1963, kicking off the game-changing "Pepsi Generation" campaign.

With her breathy, energetic voice, Sommers perfectly captured the youthful spirit the brand was aiming for.

As soon as people heard those first opening notes—"You've got a lot to live, and Pepsi's got a lot to give!"—they knew this was no typical advertisement.

The unforgettable tune crafted around Ellen Reimer’s slogan concept forged an instant connection with listeners that transcended mere branding.

Though later iterations featured celebrities like Michael Jackson, Sommers' quintessential performance gave the very first “Pepsi Generation” a voice that still echoes through popular memory today.


an old school Pepsi Nickel ad
Source: PepsiCo

Before the daring "Pepsi Generation'' campaign of 1963, Pepsi-Cola's advertising had centered on straightforward price competition with dominant market leader Coca-Cola.

Earlier taglines drove home the fact that Pepsi offered more soft drink for your money, touting "Twelve full ounces, that's a lot! Twice as much for a nickel, too."

A 12-ounce Pepsi bottle contained nearly twice as much beverage as the standard 7-ounce Coke bottle.

While this value-based messaging had resonated during economically trying times, Pepsi knew it needed a bolder, more aspirational strategy to truly expand its consumer base.

The 1963 campaign marked a dramatic departure by minimizing product attributes to sell a vibrant lifestyle instead.

However, those 12 full ounces at an affordable price point laid the groundwork for Pepsi to rise from Coke's economical alterative to a youthful brand icon in its own right.


A Pepsi Generation Ad with a blonde woman
Source: PepsiCo

The genius of the 1963 “Pepsi Generation” campaign was how it eschewed promoting any attributes of the actual beverage in favor of selling the aspirational ideals of youth, vitality, and drinks being “in control and lay claim to the future.”

Rather than comparing itself to Coca-Cola on taste or price as previous campaigns had done, Pepsi forged an emotional connection with consumers by declaring itself the soft drink choice of the younger generation.

Its television advertisements featured fun-loving, adventure-seeking youth following exotic pursuits like motorcycling through the desert—the Pepsi drinkers were not drinking Pepsi because it was cheaper—they were drinking it because it represented their lifestyle and outlook.

Though a risky branding move at the time, selling these experiential ideas and banking on younger drinkers’ self-identification with “the Pepsi Generation” allowed the brand to transcend its underdog status to become a cultural icon in its own right by the next decade.


© History Oasis

When Pepsi-Cola launched its “Pepsi Generation” campaign in 1963, it revolutionized the marketing for the entire soft drink industry.

Where both Pepsi and dominant market leader Coca-Cola had previously advertised based on price, taste, or ingredients, this campaign sold an aspirational lifestyle and identity.

By associating Pepsi with youth, vibrancy, and the future, it tapped powerfully into the rising counterculture movement and Baby Boomers’ self-perceptions.

Almost overnight, Pepsi was transformed from an inexpensive soda pop into a symbol of generational identity.

The incredible success of branding abstract ideals over tangible product attributes ushered in the era of lifestyle marketing that would soon become standard practice across everything from clothes to cars.

While Coca-Cola rapidly followed suit, Pepsi had already aligned itself with the young at heart, laying claim to an energetic brand image that still resonates today. The “Pepsi Generation” changed marketing forever.


Coca-Cola bottles
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Pepsi’s gamble on lifestyle-oriented branding paid off so successfully that arch-rival Coca-Cola soon took notice and aimed to capture some of that youthful energy for itself.

In 1971—just eight years after Pepsi aligned itself with the rising “Generation Gap”—Coca-Cola debuted the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” as its own lifestyle-focused campaign.

Following Pepsi’s playbook, the ad emphasized ideals of harmony, togetherness, and optimism rather than beverage taste or cost.

However, Pepsi had already firmly established itself as the soft drink of the younger generation.

Coke’s long-belated response felt derivative of the revolution Pepsi had sparked in marketing to identity and aspiration.

While “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” proved enormously popular in its own right, it was Pepsi who first understood the power of selling far more than just a soft drink to consumers. Coca-Cola was playing catch-up.


A Pepsi Generation ad with Michael Jackson
Source: PepsiCo

After the runaway success of pioneering the lifestyle-marketing concept to American youth in 1963, Pepsi branding architect Alan Pottasch revisited those generational themes when he led the brand’s 1984 “Choice of a New Generation” campaign.

Two decades later, Pepsi aimed to reconnect with a new wave of young consumers by touting it as the preferred soft drink “choice” for the 1980s generation.

Pottasch recruited entertainment superstar Michael Jackson as the face of the campaign, fresh off the smash success of his Thriller album.

Jackson’s musical artistry and trendsetting style made him an aspirational icon for the MTV Generation.

Centering such a stellar celebrity allowed Pepsi to capture lightning once more, making it less about the beverage itself and more about the identity that came with drinking Pepsi.

The campaign proved the enduring brilliance of Pottsch’s “Pepsi Generation” concept, which continued winning over new generations of youth two decades later.


A Pepsi Generation spanish ad with Madona
Source: PepsiCo

Building on over 30 years of incredible success targeting aspirational lifestyle marketing to America’s youth, Pepsi sought to connect with the “next generation” of young consumers by debuting its “Generation Next” campaign during 1997’s Super Bowl XXXI broadcast.

Hoping to once again align the brand with the zeitgeist, Pepsi bought several coveted minutes of airtime to unveil a high-energy montage celebrating contemporary youth culture, set to the catchy new “Move Over” jingle.

The dynamic young models and entertainers depicted the Generation Next cohort as “positive, in control and lay claim to the future”—evoking those same ideals that the Pepsi Generation had embodied in the 60s.

While fashions and music styles had changed with the times, Pepsi’s appeal to the youth market carried forward yet again. Over 30 years later, Pepsi was still the choice of the rising generation.

In contrast to the rebellious counterculture spirit touted in Pepsi’s 1960s “Generation” campaign, the 1997 follow-up “Generation Next” ads presented an updated vision of confident, driven youth.

The models appearing in the energetic Super Bowl commercial were described as “positive, in control and lay claim to the future”—a marked shift from their parents’ generation's more radical social outlook.

While the Pepsi Generation had captured the revolutionary attitudes of young Baby Boomers, Generation Next showed Pepsi keeping pace with its core demographic’s maturation.

The aesthetics changed with the times, but the branding stayed on point by presenting each wave of Pepsi drinkers as optimistic trailblazers of what’s next, ready to shape the future on their own terms.

As it had for over 30 years, Pepsi demonstrated its knack for consistently aligning itself with the dynamic self-image of each ascending generation.


a vintage Pepsi Generation ad
Source: PepsiCo

A key ingredient of Pepsi’s multi-generational success in lifestyle marketing has been its shrewd ability to partner with the era’s hottest music stars to channel that aspirational image.

As early as 1963, pop singer Joanie Sommers voiced the original “Come Alive” jingle, instantly giving musical clout to the fledgling “Pepsi Generation” concept.

In 1984, Pepsi again generated excitement by enlisting Michael Jackson fresh off the charts with Thriller to usher in the “Choice of a New Generation.” He would be followed through the years by other icons like Lionel Ritchie, Gloria Estefan, Shania Twain, and the Spice Girls.

As times changed, Pepsi evolved with them, but always retained its credibility with youth. In more recent years, singers like Britney Spears and Beyoncé have carried this torch into the 21st century.

Through over half a century of clever endorsements, Pepsi has repeatedly renewed its status as the soft drink of the hottest artists and coolest kids on the block.