In a triumphant surge, Dr Pepper has claimed the number two spot in the United States carbonated soft drink market, surpassing Pepsi and trailing only Coca-Cola

This significant milestone, highlighted by Beverage Digest, is reflective of the brand’s strategic investments and innovative marketing approaches.

Consumer Perceptions Align with Sales Data

Dr Pepper’s rise is not just in sales but also in consumer perception. According to FutureBrand‘s recent Consumer Index report, Dr Pepper outranks Pepsi, landing at the 41st spot, with consumers viewing it as having a more promising future and a distinctive edge. 

The head of strategy at FutureBrand noted that Dr Pepper is seen as more up-to-date and uniquely different compared to its long-standing competitor.

Strategic Investments and Marketing Innovation

Since the 2018 merger of Keurig Green Mountain and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, the parent company has significantly ramped up its marketing efforts, resulting in a double-digit increase in marketing spend. 

Brad Rakes, senior director for brand marketing at Keurig Dr Pepper, attributes this success to a blend of investment and patience. 

Furthermore, an executive from the company emphasised the comprehensive commitment across content, media, and prioritisation, ensuring Dr Pepper remains a cornerstone of their portfolio.

Embracing Identity, Breaking the Mould and Deep Involvement with College Football

In its quest to stand out from Coke and Pepsi, Dr Pepper has embraced its unique identity as a disruptor with a one-of-a-kind taste. The brand’s marketing has successfully balanced consistency with rule-breaking, acknowledging that maintaining a 140-year-old strategy won’t fuel future growth.

A pivotal aspect of Dr Pepper’s marketing is its deep involvement with college football. Since becoming the first official sponsor of the college football playoff in 2014, Dr Pepper has leveraged this platform to build strong connections with fans. 

The “Fansville” campaign, launched in 2018 and created with Deutsch LA, has become a significant creative and player partnership platform, returning for its seventh season this year. 

This ongoing campaign, a parody of high school sports dramas, like “Friday Night Lights,” features football-obsessed fans in a fictional town and has remained a cornerstone of Dr Pepper’s advertising strategy.

Partnerships and Creative Initiatives

Dr Pepper’s creative campaigns have garnered high consumer interest and strong advertising performance. Last year’s collaboration with Heisman trophy winner Caleb Williams introduced “FANicures,” a nail polish kit inspired by Williams’ gameday tradition. 

This initiative showcased Dr Pepper’s ability to integrate personal branding into its universe authentically. The nail painting tradition, rooted in Williams’ own brand and inspired by his nail-technician mother, provided a unique way for Dr Pepper to connect with fans.

The brand has also swiftly capitalised on viral trends, such as the recent “Dr Pepper with pickles” trend on TikTok, which amassed over 2.6 million views. 

This agility is a result of a holistic, agile marketing model that empowers brand and agency teams to make rapid decisions. Brad Rakes explained that this model relies not only on data and tools but also on having people and processes in place that can move responsively.

Flavor Innovation Driving Growth

In the competitive landscape of the carbonated soft drink market, flavour innovation has been a critical driver for Dr Pepper. 

The Strawberries & Cream flavour generated over $300 million in sales last year, while the new Creamy Coconut Limited-Time Offer (LTO) saw a 50% increase in volume sales compared to the previous year’s Dark Berry LTO, according to Circana data shared by the brand.

An executive highlighted the importance of balancing flavour innovation with maintaining the core business, noting that over-reliance on new flavours could risk the base business. Therefore, Dr Pepper’s strategy is to strike the right balance, appealing to younger and more multicultural consumers without deviating too far from its core offerings. 

Furthermore, the executive stressed that while flavours are essential for recruitment and growth, it is crucial not to over-rotate to the point where the base business suffers.

Leveraging Brand Loyalty and Agility

Dr Pepper is fortunate to have a loyal fan base with a core of high-frequency consumers. This brand loyalty and love are evident in various ways, such as the viral trend involving drinking Dr Pepper with pickles. The brand’s quick response to this trend with a TikTok video demonstrates its agile marketing approach.

The speed of its response is due to a holistic, agile marketing model, Rakes explained, that relies on not just the data and tools that have become commonplace in modern marketing but having people and processes in place that can move the levers responsively. 

In terms of the marketing team that spans brand and agency staff, the brand has given them the flexibility and the rights to make decisions and to move with speed. They enable people to make smart decisions and to go.

This agility has helped the brand capitalise on avenues like college football and flavour innovation to play on the same field as Coke and Pepsi. But its relationship with its competitors is an unusual one, as it is largely distributed by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo

For Dr Pepper, consumer obsession and walking the line between consistency and disruption will help not just its brand but its partners. As a brand, they know who they are, and they know what it is that they need to do. 

Furthermore, it is believed that if they focus on that and if they do a good job then their partners all across the value chain — Keurig Dr Pepper, their shareholders, their distributors, their retailers — everybody should continue to be winning.

Conclusion: A Winning Strategy for the Future

Dr Pepper’s ascent to the number two spot in the U.S. carbonated soft drink market is a testament to its strategic investments, innovative marketing, and agile response to consumer trends. 

By embracing its unique identity, leveraging college football, and driving flavour innovation, Dr Pepper has successfully differentiated itself from Coke and Pepsi.

What’s more, the brand’s loyal fan base, coupled with its ability to adapt quickly, ensures it remains a formidable player in the market. As Dr Pepper continues to focus on consumer obsession and balance consistency with disruption, it not only strengthens its brand but also benefits its partners across the value chain. 

With a clear understanding of its identity and objectives, Dr Pepper is poised for continued success and growth in the years to come.