Coca-Cola is busy spreading "Happiness" around the world as an Olympics sponsor, while Pepsi is counting on new cultural relevance through its music-based "Live for Now" campaign and by sponsoring the next Super Bowl halftime show.
But back at the home offices in Atlanta and in Purchase, N.Y., executives of each company are dealing with real-world strains including the increasing opposition of nutrition activists (including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg), more competition, consumers' fading interest in soft drinks — and with each other. And those factors are contributing to important new dynamics for PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent.
In Atlanta, Coca-Cola has just reorganized its C-suite and expanded the responsibilities of two senior executives, Steve Cahillane and Ahmet Bozer, creating an early horse race to succeed Kent in a few years. The move also is part of a consolidation of executive authority beneath Kent, who has been widely praised for his leadership of the company, boosting profits and swiping market share from PepsiCo since he became CEO in 2008.
Meanwhile, Nooyi is keeping her chin up in Purchase. While moves over the last year or so to bolster the Pepsi brand have been hailed, she continues to be assailed for the stagnation in PepsiCo's stock price and for disdaining the soft-drink trade overall in favor of better-for-you diversifications, such as Pepsi's new yogurt pact with Germany's Muller.
At the same time — underscoring the dilemmas facing Nooyi — some PepsiCo observers have criticized her for allowing a backlash against unhealthy snacks to hurt the Frito-Lay snacks business, and for failing to make much progress in the energy-drink market.
Both executives, of course, must continue dealing with threats such as the New York City big-soda ban and even commodity-price spikes.
And there is one prize that both companies covet, and how they pursue it may ultimately have a lot to say about the final legacies of both Kent and Nooyi. That is the holy grail of a no-calorie soft drink that tastes like a regular cola and doesn't use artificial sweeteners to do so.
So let "Happiness" reign as both CEOs "Live for Now." The Coke-Pepsi battle, and the records of the companies' current leaders, will continue to be sorted out in the months and years ahead.