The Real Pepsi Challenge

In hardcover, and in paperback with a study guide for course work in Marketing, American History, Business History, African-American Studies.

In America’s long march toward racial equality, small acts of courage by men and women whose names we don’t recall have contributed mightily to our nation’s struggle to achieve its own ideals.

This moving book details the story of one such little-noted chapter. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, as Jackie Robinson changed the face of baseball, a group of African-American businessmen — twelve at its peak — changed the face of American business by being among the first black Americans to work at professional jobs in Corporate America and to target black consumers as a distinct market. The corporation was Pepsi-Cola, led by the charismatic and socially progressive Walter Mack, a visionary business leader. Though Mack was a guarded idealist, his consent for a campaign aimed at black consumers was primarily motivated by the pursuit of profits — and the campaign succeeded, boosting Pepsi’s earnings and market share. But America succeeded as well, as longstanding stereotypes were chipped away and African- Americans were recognized as both talented employees and valued customers. It was a significant step in our becoming a more inclusive society.

How Pepsi helped open corporate doors to African-Americans

– Warren Goldstein, NYT Book Review, 2/4/2007

History-making heroism, Stephanie Capparell means to demonstrate in this admiring account of the Pepsi-Cola Company’s pioneering — but largely unsung — “special-markets sales staff,” ought not to be measured solely by the fame it attracts. She’s right. Inconceivable without the giants of the ballpark and the ring, demonstrations and courtrooms, the movement for African-American civil rights depended even more on the mostly unknowable actions of millions, black and white, who created new ways of thinking and working and acting within and across racial lines.
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This Team of Black Men Fought & Won

– Stanley Crouch, New York Daily News, 1/15/2007

We celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. today because he represented a movement that brought about monumental change in American society. 

And there can be no greater example of what preceded King’s arrival on the scene in the mid-1950s than a big decision made by a company interested in selling something so seemingly unimportant as a soft drink. 

Pepsi-Cola made a decision in the 1940s that addressed the ongoing struggle between profit and ethics at the center of American capitalism. In other words, there should be a morality upon which one bases the making of money.
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Pepsi’s challenge in 1940s: Color barrier

– Michelle Archer, USA Today, 1/22/2007

Lots of things were different in the 1940s. Television was a luxury item. A 12-oz. bottle of Pepsi cost a nickel.

Not many black people were able to attend college then, and those who did and graduated had few job prospects. So few that in 1940, when Pepsi’s liberal president, Walter Mack, hired Herman Smith, an adman “from the Negro newspaper field” to promote Pepsi in African-American communities, the news made The New York Times.
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Multicultural Marketing? How PepsiCo Got It Started

– Yoji Cole, Diversity Inc. 2007

It was before Rosa Parks. It was before Brown Vs. Board of Education. It was before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball. It was the 1940s and the Pepsi-Cola Co. was fighting the cola wars against rival Coca-Cola. Pepsi was based in the North. Coke was in the South. Pepsi offered a 12-ounce bottle for the same price as Coke’s 6-ounce bottle – which attracted black consumers. Coke’s leadership was linked to segregationist views. To put Pepsi ahead of Coke, Pepsi president Walter S. Mack decided to hire a team of black salesman and utilize multicultural marketing before there was such a term. …

68 thoughts on “The Real Pepsi Challenge”

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