PepsiCo is hoping to spark new competition to the lemon-lime soda market with their newest brand, Starry. Released in January 2023, it is still in the earliest phases of brand activation. So far, we’ve seen its TV debut during NFL’s Championship Weekend slate of games, but there is said to be digital and social content as well as large-scale partnerships on the way.
With all that forthcoming for Starry, we decided to look at the branding based on first impressions—understanding the paramount importance of this moment in an overall launch strategy.
So, was the launch of Starry sparkling or did it fall flat?
The brand identity is bright, eye-catching, and built on a simple but evocative name. Going with a common trend in the industry, PepsiCo decided on a name with little connection to the flavor itself. Like how they named their former lemon lime soda Sierra Mist, they selected a name that serves as a theme for the brand—reminiscent of an electric and effervescent cosmic night sky.
Unlike the name, the visual identity is intentionally suggestive of the flavor using green and yellow as well as citrus imagery. Strategically, this is a smart choice as Starry needs to be recognized as a lemon lime option at first glance to ensure no one skips over it for another, well-established option.
The visuals themselves are striking with bright colors and the thick black outline around a fun, nostalgia-inspired font. However, it’s four-point star-like shape is reminiscent of the abstract burst Sprite has used in its branding since the mid-2000s. Knowing that Starry is PepsiCo’s direct attempt to steal market share from Sprite, this creates a similarity where we would have expected distinction.
One of the earliest and most important choices a brand will make is who to target, and PepsiCo has a history of choosing audiences based on age. This approach, known as generational targeting, assumes that a group of people within an age range rather than groups who share buying habits offer the best opportunity for brand sales. For example, in the 1960’s PepsiCo told Baby Boomers they were the “Pepsi Generation” and, later as Generation X began to hit their twenties, they used the tagline “the choice of a new generation.”
And it is clear now with Starry that they are once again employing generational targeting, this time aiming for Gen Z. It just takes one look at their bold colors, retro visuals, overall funky design approach, and their slang-inspired tagline “Starry Hits Different” to know who the brand was built for.
Overall, we know that throwback visual styles can succeed in being more than a hip Gen Z trend, capturing the nostalgia of older generations as well. But as targeting an age cohort casts an overly broad net, resulting in a pretty watered-down marketing strategy, it would be more astute of Starry to find a way to appeal to all soda drinkers – not just the young ones – if it wants to beat Sprite.
Starry is PepsiCo’s attempt to take market share from Sprite. This would have been apparent just by releasing a new brand of lemon lime soda, but PepsiCo is taking it further—they are screaming with their tagline and their messaging that they are here to shake things up.
And we’ll admit, Starry has gotten our attention. But while first impressions indicate PepsiCo’s new brand, opportunistically entrenched in trend, is no more than a starry-eyed attempt to unseat Sprite, only time (and the next phases of activation) will tell if the effort will be remembered as briefly as a shooting star or recognized as a stellar brand move.