Today is Shanghai Disneyland’s 1st Anniversary, and in honor of the occasion, I figured I’d write about the one topic that interests you all when it comes to the newest Disney park in mainland China.
No, not Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, which is the most revolutionary attraction in decades–better than Avatar Flight of Passage–and arguably the best modern attraction on the globe. Certainly not Enchanted Storybook Castle, which is the largest of any Disney castle. No, not even TRON Lightcycle Power Run, which fans want to see come to Tomorrowland or Epcot really, really badly.
I’m talking about the fact that Shanghai Disneyland serves Pepsi instead of Coca-Cola. If my posts about Shanghai Disneyland on social media are any indication, this is the thing about which Disney fans care the most. Soda. (Really?)
For reasons unbeknownst to me, this is a serious rivalry. It’s right up there with Beatles v. Stones, Dole Whip v. Citrus Swirl, Captain America v. Iron Man, and In-N-Out v. Five Guys. If feedback to this is any indication, the only thing about which Disney fans are more passionate is the “rivalry” between Disney and Universal.
Personally, I think all of these rivalries are pointless, for the simple reason that they are all non-zero sum games. All of the things listed above are great, and liking one does not come at the expense of the other. I pretty much stated as much in our Walt Disney World v. Universal Studios post. However, many of you seem pretty keen on concocted rivalries, so here we are.
I could make this a post poking fun at why anyone would really take a side in a soda rivalry, but as a lifelong Detroit Lions diehard, I’m probably not the best judge of pointless fandoms. Those in glass houses and all that.
Instead, I’ll provide a bit of background and context as to why Pepsi is served at Shanghai Disneyland instead of Coca-Cola, which is the official drink of every other Disney park on earth…
Coke was the first western soda to re-enter China in 1979, after a 30 year absence. Pepsi followed suit 2 years later in 1981. It did so with the help of local partner Tingyi. Such joint venture arrangements are incredibly common in China, which is still apprehensive of Western influences. (Disney’s partner in China is state-owned Shanghai Shendi Group.)
Like so many brands, both Pepsi and Coke are still struggling for a toe-hold over the world’s largest consumer market and are eager to grow their penetration in China no matter the cost. The trials and tribulations that invariably occur when Western companies enter the Chinese market is quite fascinating, but ultimately, beyond the scope of this post.
It was a big story when PepsiCo inked this deal for Shanghai Disneyland, and a value on it wasn’t announced at the time. Given Pepsi’s aggressive expansion efforts in China as it attempts to chip away at Coke’s market share, our assumption is that Pepsi offered a considerable sum and outbid Coke. The Chinese middle class presents a huge growth opportunity for many Western brands, like Pepsi and Coke. Pepsi has stated as much, indicating in its 2025 growth plan that China plays a vital role.
Pepsi is not alone in paying significant sponsorship fees for prominent placement in Shanghai Disneyland for such an opportunity. Ad Age reports that companies view the deals as opportunities to be viewed alongside Disney, an international status symbol, among China’s growing middle class.
Shanghai Disneyland’s opening also marked the launch of five new flavors of PepsiCo beverages that had been created at the company’s Asian R&D labs, including new flavors of Icebolt. Other products from PepsiCo and Tingyi available at Shanghai Disneyland include Pepsi, Pepsi Max, 7UP, Mirinda, Master Kong, Gatorade, and Tropicana.
In addition to the park-wide beverage sponsorship at Shanghai Disneyland, Pepsi also sponsors Baymax Super Exercise Expo, which is an interactive workout show hosted by Baymax. It’s a bit ironic for a soda company to sponsor a show ostensibly about healthy living; I mean, can you imagine if an oil company sponsored an educational attraction about the future of energy?! (Oh wait.)
Shanghai Disneyland’s opening also marked the first time in roughly 30 years that Pepsi had been served in a Disney park. For those who consider it heresy for Pepsi to be served in a Disney park because it’s “tradition” that Coke is the sponsor, this is only recent tradition.
Pepsi was an opening day sponsor of Disneyland, and continued to be the beverage of choice in Disney Parks for three-plus decades after that. Pepsi sponsored the UNICEF pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, which most notably included the ‘it’s a small world’ attraction. Most notably, Pepsi was an early sponsor of Country Bear Jamboree, an arrangement that continued for roughly a decade. There was even co-branded merchandise! (Okay, they sponsored national treasure Country Bear Jamboree? They have my allegiances forever.)
So there you have it–probably way more than you ever wanted to know about Pepsi v. Coca-Cola in the context of Shanghai Disneyland and the Chinese market, generally. In my defense, I figure if you’re going to care about something inconsequential, you might as well have more than ‘rah rah Coke/Pepsi’ knowledge of why this sponsorship came to be and its potential for Pepsi in China.
Oh, and Happy 1st Anniversary, Shanghai Disneyland. Here’s to many more years to come.
If you’re planning a visit to China, check out our Shanghai Disneyland Planning Guide. It’s a comprehensive guide to the park and beyond, covering everything from transit visas to airfare to WiFi to currency and much, much more. For more photos and an idea of what we did day-by-day during our first visit, read our Shanghai Disneyland Grand Opening Trip Report.
Which ‘side’ do you take in the totally epic and not at all petty and ridiculous soda rivalry? Are you a Coke person or a Pepsi person? (ENJOYING BOTH IS NOT AN OPTION SO CHOOSE YOUR ALLIANCE WISELY.) Any thoughts on Pepsi and other Western brand efforts to penetrate the growing Chinese middle class market? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!