Let’s Drink to Pepsi Advertisements for National Beverage Day

Since May 6th is National Beverage Day, Modern Graphic History Library is featuring 1950s soft drink advertisements.

In the 1950s, Coca-Cola still had the sales edge over Pepsi-Cola.  Coca-Cola’s advertisements focused on “refreshment.”  Coke was a drink for hostesses to include with their fancy dinner parties, to make the food more enjoyable.

mghl_pepsi01from Good Housekeeping, July 1952, by unknown artist

Pepsi responded to their rival’s advertising with a campaign throughtout the 1950s on “light refreshment” that “refreshes without filling.”   Pepsi stressed how its product had less calories (than presumably Coke did).  Pepsi was less sweet, less filling, and the perfect drink for a modern diet in order to stay slender.  And it came in two sizes, unlike Coke, which wouldn’t offer different size bottles until 1955.

by Len Steckler, Woman’s Home Companion, 1953

Pepsi stressed itself as “the modern light refreshment” to differentiate it from old-fashioned Coca-Cola.  It was for modern women and the modern diet trend since women wanted slender figures.

from McCall’s, March 1958, by unknown artist

Pepsi, just like Coke, was also focused on being “the choice” for dinner parties, outings, and weddings.   Many of the advertisements featured a couple happily interacting in a social situation, with a Pepsi in-hand.

mghl_pepsi04from unknown publication, November 3, 1956, by unknown artist

Other advertisements would feature a woman by herself in a social setting, but always implying that others were nearby, just “off the page.”

mghl_pepsi05by Len Steckler, 1955

Pepsi also stressed its modernness with a very modern look.  The advertising artwork was lighter, crisper, and less-rendered than the Coca-Cola ads.  It was drawn by popular fiction illustrators such as Len Steckler and Joe Bowler, whose modern style artwork was featured in magazines including Saturday Evening Post.  Many of the ads are unsigned, so some artists are unknown.

mghl_pepsi06by Joe Bowler, American Weekly, August 17, 1959

The artwork was very angular and featured many diagonals.  Against the white background, the shape of the beverage drinkers accentuated the negative space.  The backgrounds were simplified, to just show enough detail to set up the location.

mghl_pepsi07from unknown publication, August 5, 1956, by unknown artist

Coca-Cola would later feature advertisements with this more modern, less rendered artwork style.  The company also hired popular illustrators, including Bernie Fuchs.

mghl_pepsi08by Bernie Fuchs, This Week, April 20, 1958

Modern Graphic History Library wishes you a happy National Beverage Day with the soft drink of your choice.


The 1952 Coca-Cola advertisement is from the Periodicals Collection.

All other images are from the Walt Reed Illustration Archive.

Information on sales trends and sizes of soft drinks came from:

1950s: The Golden Age of Coca-Cola. The History of Coca-Cola.com, n.d.

Palmer, Brian. When Did Sodas Get So Big? Slate.com, September 14, 2012.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.