Lemon-lime-flavored soda is a category that’s been on the up and up since 2019. So when PepsiCo announced the launch of Starry, a crisp and refreshing soda, consumers with a love for citrus notes were elated.

Starry launched in January 2023, in Regular and Zero Sugar versions across the U.S. giving The Coca-Cola Company’s Sprite, a brand that’s dominated the lemon-lime-flavored market for years, its biggest competitor. Using the tagline, ‘STARRY Hits Different’, PepsiCo’s product innovation team wanted to create something that’s optimally sweet and easy to drink while delivering on what’s promised—a refreshing burst of lemon-lime flavor perfect for any occasion. 

But this wasn’t PepsiCo’s first rodeo when it came to the world of lemon-lime soda..

Starry’s Tagline ‘STARRY Hits Different’ | KTLA

Starry’s journey to becoming a formidable competitor

Before Starry became PepsiCo’s latest introduction into the lemon-lime soda industry, they’ve been launching various beverages since the early 1980s, trying to take market share away from Sprite by introducing brands like Storm and Slice.

In 2000, they launched Sierra Mist and its dwindling sales meant that the brand’s fate was sealed and was discontinued after a decade. After years of trying to breathe new life into their soda by changing the formula, they renamed the soda to Mist Twist in 2015 before reverting to Sierra Mist in 2018.

PepsiCo’s Mist Twist Soda | Fox News

Even with all the changes, they were still lightyears behind Sprite, but with the popularity of lemon-lime soda, they still wanted to give it another shot by targeting Gen Z consumers and gaining that elusive market share in the lemon-lime soda industry.

When did PepsiCo’s Starry come into the picture and how was it received?

As mentioned, Starry was PepsiCo’s successor to its Sierra Mist brand, and after its launch, it quickly became the second-fastest growing brand among American adults.

Starry first debuted in Las Vegas in October 2022 at the National Association of Convenience Stores. A few months later, influencers started receiving samples of Starry and posted their reviews on YouTube. It wasn’t long after that stores like Walmart and Kroger started carrying the soda. But PepsiCo had bigger plans for its promising new brand and if they happened to get a leg up on The Coca-Cola Company, then that would just be a welcome bonus.

Starry scores with the NBA

Launching a new soda brand is tough enough. So when PepsiCo’s Starry partnered with the NBA, WNBA, and NBA G League in North America the same year as their official soft drink launch—ending its partnership with The Coca-Cola Company—it created an even bigger buzz around the soda brand.

To carve out their place in the high-stakes world of the NBA, similar to what Red Bull did with Formula 1 using the power of sports marketing, PepsiCo leveraged the platform of the biggest weekend in basketball by becoming the title partner of the NBA All-Star 3-Point Contest.

Damian Lillard during the Starry 3-Point Contest | NBA

They showed up for the biggest moments in the NBA, both on the court and on the big screen.

Creating a buzzing brand by leveraging sports marketing

First, Starry introduced ‘STARRY Range’, described as the ‘most electric shot in all of sports’. The STARRY 3-Point Contest was promoted as the ultimate test of range and featured the best sharpshooters in the NBA on February 18 during the State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night in Salt Lake City, Utah.

But they didn’t stop there. They wanted their brand imprinted over the entire weekend and become a part of the immersive fan event, the NBA Crossover.

Here’s what they did.

  • ‘Shoot Your Shot’ Challenge: Starry gave away a total of $100,000 at NBA Crossover over the 3-day event. Each day $33,000 was given away to the fan that could sink the most 3-point shots in one minute. Fans were encouraged to test their skills and go one-on-one with the best sharpshooters.
  • Sampling: Fans were also given the chance to sample Starry both the regular and zero-sugar versions.

The lesson? Sports marketing isn’t just about getting your product or brand out there. It’s also about creating that all-important connection with the people who have the power to make or break a brand.

While the ‘Shoot Your Shot’ Challenge was all about the fan experience, Starry didn’t forget to promote their brand either. Being new to the soda industry, they couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to promote their soda to the more than 190,000 fans who attended the event.

Keeping the streak alive for the 2024 NBA All-Star Weekend

While PepsiCo’s Starry was getting their feet wet in the world of sports marketing in 2023, it went full steam ahead in 2024 when it partnered with Giannis Antetokounmpo for its new ad campaign ‘It’s Time to See Other Sodas’ which premiered at the Super Bowl LVIII.

Starry’s Super Bowl spot urges fans to leave those tired lemon-lime flavored sodas and choose Starry instead, simply because ‘STARRY Hits Different’. Here’s the commercial if you missed it.

‘Time To See Other Sodas’ Video | Starry

The campaign combined elements of music and culture to show its playful positioning and also the brand’s lemon-lime flavor. Starry mascots Lem and Lime were also featured in a press conference where they interacted with the Greek Freak.

Using Giannis was a strong sports marketing strategy because Starry wants to project itself as a playful and fresh product—especially if it’s targeting Gen Z consumers. These are the same traits that embody Antetokounmpo, making him the perfect athlete to shake things up.

Starry also included social media elements with a Tinder integration, where users can swipe right on each NBA Game Roadblock or the All-Star Roadblock and enter to win tickets to an NBA game.

Starry’s role in the NBA Crossover grows

When Starry started its sports marketing campaign with the NBA in 2023, it started with a simple ‘Shoot Your Shot’ challenge and in 2024, they took it one step further to give fans a different experience.

For the first time, they didn’t host the STARRY 3-Point Contest on a normal wood court; they used an LED court where they gave away $75,000 to each fan who dunked the most 3-point shots in 33 seconds each day. They also gave away ‘Team Lem’ and ‘Team Lime’ merch!

Starry also went on to host interactive games featuring athletes and photo and lounge experiences and gave fans more ways to enjoy the NBA All-Star Weekend if they weren’t really into sinking 3-pointers.

Credit: Starry

Now if you’re a marketer, keep in mind that this isn’t just about PepsiCo’s journey in sports marketing and partnering with the most popular sports leagues in the world. There are lessons to be learned throughout this story whether you’re trying your hand at this type of marketing or just marketing in general.

Key marketing lessons from PepsiCo’s Starry

1: Giving up isn’t an option

If you look at PepsiCo’s journey, you’d think that it never stood a chance at gaining market share. Even with the failure of many soda brands like Slice, Storm, and Sierra Mist, PepsiCo didn’t give up. They kept on changing formulas and rebranding but when that failed, they tried one more time and came up with Starry.

Sometimes marketing can be a lot of trial and error. Your marketing campaigns or products may not always land, but it’s important to keep trying, listen to your customers, and adjust, because your next idea may just be the one that takes your brand to the masses.

2: Elevate the fan/consumer experience

There’s a saying that goes, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Sound advice, but today, consumers want something better than what they had a month or year ago. With brands moving faster than ever before, experiencing something new is now the norm.

PepsiCo’s marketing campaigns and experiences during the NBA All-Star Weekend did just that. Sure, they kept the STARRY 3-Point Contest, but they elevated it into a whole new experience for fans. That’s what brands and marketers need to focus on in today’s marketing world.

Think of ways to make the experience better for customers—whether it’s through a simple product or service upgrade or a completely new feature that makes their experience better. Ask yourself: Are my consumers satisfied with what I’m offering? Can I make my product/service offerings better? Are my competitors providing a better experience?

All these questions can help you do what PepsiCo did. And who knows, you just might be able to knock off top players in your industry and pull a fast one!

3: Pick the right ‘face’ for your brand

When it comes to marketing, it’s important to have the right face represent your brand. For PepsiCo, that face was Giannis Antetokounmpo. The very attributes that PepsiCo wanted to be associated with were what Antetokounmpo brought to the table.

Many brands today are searching for the right influencers that can take them to a larger audience much faster than traditional marketing campaigns. Ideally, they should already have a solid fan base that matches what you’re selling.

For instance, if you’re selling a pharmaceutical product that helps alleviate allergies, then you may not want to target influencers who promote or have a following that’s passionate about cures that are made from natural ingredients.

Sports marketing—where amazing happens

There’s nothing quite like a game of basketball—or a refreshing lemon-lime-flavored soft drink at the end of a big game. Bring those two things together and you’ve got all the makings of a great partnership.

Taking a page out of the NBA and PepsiCo’s partnership isn’t just for aspiring brands that want to get into the world of sports. There are key lessons that can influence your marketing strategy to be more resilient.

So the next time you’re thinking about overcoming a failed marketing campaign, remind yourself that it took one of the biggest soft drink brands in the world 40 years to get it right. If they didn’t give up, neither should you.


What are the key objectives of marketing sports?

The primary objectives of marketing sports include building brand awareness, increasing fan engagement, attracting sponsors, generating revenue through ticket sales and merchandise, and creating long-term loyalty among fans and stakeholders.

How do sports marketers leverage digital marketing platforms?

Sports marketers leverage digital platforms by creating engaging content such as videos, blogs, podcasts, and social media posts to connect with fans on a personal level. They use data analytics to understand audience behavior, optimize advertising campaigns, and track the performance of their digital initiatives.

How do sports marketers measure success?

Sports marketers measure success through key performance indicators (KPIs) such as ticket sales, TV ratings, social media engagement, website traffic, sponsorship revenue, brand recognition, and fan loyalty. These metrics help evaluate the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and strategies.