The ugly racial history of America’s soft drink brands

The truth about the history of America’s favorite soft drinks, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, may shock you. Coca-Cola, for example, founded in the year 1892, was originally a product only intended for White people. According to the New York Times, Coke’s recipe was heavily influenced by White supremacy and it was marketed mainly to the White middle class. Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, the company “studiously” and purposely ignored the African-American market.

Pepsi, on the otherhand, started out by primarily targeting African American consumers. In fact, during the 1940’s, the company launched a “negro markets” department and even had Black sales representatives working hard to promote the brand in urban areas. They also aggressively hired Black models to appear in Pepsi ads that were featured in Black publications. Special point-of-purchase displays also appeared in stores that were mostly patronized by African-Americans.

Neither company, Coca-Cola or Pepsi, had an inclusive marketing strategy in the beginning to promote their soft drinks to people of all ethnic backgrounds. In fact, according to The Atlantic, they were avidly known as ‘White’ and ‘Black’ drinks for quite some time.

In later years, however, both companies did eventually begin to implement diversity advertising campaigns after realizing that they were missing out on the opportunity to generate billions of dollars in revenue. But that didn’t put an end to the racism.

In the year 2000, for example, Coca-Cola was ordered to pay $156 million to settle a federal lawsuit brought by a group of Black employees who accused the company of racial discrimination.

Pepsi was forced to do the same in 2012 when they paid $3.13 million to settle a federal lawsuit stemmed by accusations of racial discrimination for using criminal background checks to screen out job applicants who were arrested but not convicted, disproportionately excluding Blacks.

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