The rise of Dr Pepper: What is the brand doing right?

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Building a beverage brand: What is Dr Pepper doing right?

Related tags keurig dr pepper Dr pepper KDP Pepsi branding

Dr Pepper has become the second largest soda brand in the US. How has it done this - and is growth set to continue?

Dr Pepper’s market share has overtaken that of Pepsi in the US, according to data from Beverage Digest, which shows that Dr Pepper inched ahead of Pepsi in 2023 in terms of market share, and is now only behind Coca-Cola.

That’s supported by research into brand popularity from IPG’s branding and experience agency FutureBrand, which puts Dr Pepper at 41 and Pepsi at 43 out of 100 consumer brands (The FutureBrand Consumer Index tracks what is so often difficult to put into metrics: looking at how brand attributes like mission, innovation, dispensability, consistency and personality play out with consumers).

So what is Dr Pepper doing right?

Taste is king

Dr Pepper's growth is not new: it's seen seven years of continuous dollar share growth since 2017.

At its base is its unique taste. But then it's about innovating beyond that: keeping consumers engaged with new flavors and adding in zero sugar brands for today's consumers.

Dr Pepper Creamy Coconut (1)

"The brand’s success has been enabled by its ability to provide a one-of-a-kind treat for consumers, supported by its original 23 flavor recipe that has defined its unique, indulgent taste," a Dr Pepper spokesperson told us, when we asked what the winning formula has been for the brand.

"In addition, it has delivered new regular and zero-sugar flavor extensions that offer craveable experiences and twists on classic favorites from Dr Pepper Strawberries & Cream (2023) and Dr Pepper & Cream sodas to this summer’s limited time offering, Dr Pepper Creamy Coconut."

Digital spend

Another factor has been to concentrate marketing efforts in the digital space. 

"We have evolved our media and creative strategy to focus on reaching the consumer where they are, and these days that is primarily in digital spaces," the brand told us. "These spaces evolve so quickly that we utilize an agile communications methodology to optimize our investment approach continuously."

"Importantly, Dr Pepper’s consumer-obsessed marketing approach to brand-building has resulted in fun and engaging marketing campaigns, such as our popular ‘Fansville’ campaign associated with college football and our recent “It's a Pepper Thing" campaign which celebrates all the unique individuals who are linked together over their love for Dr Pepper."   

A 'consistent, credible brand'

Bringing a good product and effective marketing together has resulted in something less easy to measure - a brand that's seen by consumers as "a consistent, credible brand with a promising future known for bringing pleasurable experiences to people."

That's according to Lynne Field, head of strategy and FutureBrand, who isn't surprised by Dr Pepper's growth and spurt over Pepsi.

“Consumers view the Dr Pepper brand as having a more promising future, doing a better job of keeping up to date, and being more distinctive and different than Pepsi,” she said.

In FutureBrand's Consumer Index, Dr Pepper’s highest scores are in consistency, mission, pleasure and authenticity. What’s more, it’s outscored Pepsi in Mission (47% Dr. Pepper vs. 39% Pepsi), Inspiration (38% Dr Pepper vs. 33% Pepsi), and Individuality (36% Dr Pepper vs. 27% Pepsi).

“Dr Pepper has placed consistent focus on its unique taste since its beginning – proving it has always been a brand about Individuality, a relatively important driver in our Consumer Index,” said Field.

“The brand self-identifies as “inspired by fans” and markets itself as a brand for people who are unique and different.”

That element of humanization also means changing with the times and following current trends.

dr pepper dirty soda

“The brand stays relevant through continuous product innovation and being highly responsive to cultural trends,” said Field. “For example, Dr Pepper answered the TikTok ‘dirty soda’ trend with their Dr. Pepper Creamy Coconut soda, inspired by consumers who were mixing Dr Pepper with lime juice and coconut-flavored creamer. 

“At a time when loneliness has reached epidemic proportions, consumers are looking for brands to bring them a sense of belonging and community. Dr Pepper’s longstanding investment in college football and its Fanville campaign may help foster a sense of personal connection beyond the product.”

How can Dr Pepper keep up the momentum?

Coca-Cola still dominates the market in terms of value and volume; and it does in the Index as well (it comes in at #10, compared to #41 and #43 for Dr Pepper and Pepsi in FutureBrands rankings).

Dr Pepper also needs to watch beyond the big three of soda: with emerging beverage brands making more and more noise in the category.

But focusing on what it's done right can help the brand continue to grow, said Field. That means staying in tune with the up-and-coming generations. 

“Doubling down on Gen Z and Gen Alpha values and finding unique opportunities to experientially exemplify its brand purpose to connect with them could help further Dr Pepper chip away at Coke and Pepsi’s market share."

Related topics Markets Soft drinks Keurig Dr Pepper