11 Points

Coke Once Made a Clear Cola That Was Intentionally Terrible to Take Down Crystal Pepsi
written by Sam Greenspan

Crystal Pepsi is coming back next month. On August 8th, a limited run of Crystal Pepsi will hit stores, and it will probably sell very well. Nostalgia is huge right now, whether it's Nintendo Vans, the Saved by the Bell restaurant in Chicago, the Pokemon resurgence, or calling exploding, non-hovering scooters "hoverboards" because we're so desperate for Back to the Future Part II's reality. Crystal Pepsi was, while not a commercial success or a taste success, a marketing success of the early 1990s. That qualifies it for nostalgia, even though we didn't collectively enjoy it.

Crystal Pepsi was an effort by Pepsi to reslice the soda market's pie chart. You had regular colas, diet colas, root beer and fruit-flavored sodas. How about a clear cola? It was a hell of a gimmick, one that both worked with the early '90s aesthetic and helped define it, and Pepsi poured $40 million into marketing it. (Which was a lot at the time. Now that's the advertising budget for a mediocre cell phone game.) It was positioned as a "new age cola" and got an explosive introduction via a high-profile Super Bowl commercial. Crystal Pepsi was part of the early '90s zeitgeist.

Its failure is quite well documented. Check out any of the infinite "most spectacular product fails" lists on the Internet; Crystal Pepsi will make it 100 percent of the time. Crystal Pepsi was introduced in April 1992 and off the market in 1994. The main reason it failed was simple, too: It didn't taste like Pepsi (or any cola). I remember it just tasted... different. And not in a good way.

But two decades of distance has unearthed another reason why Crystal Pepsi -- and the entire "clear cola" concept -- arrived, withered and perished so quickly. It's because Coca-Cola's counter strategy to Crystal Pepsi was... a high-stakes corporate kamikaze mission.



About half a year after Crystal Pepsi debuted (and when Pepsi was still holding out hope that it would become a permanent market segment), Coke rolled out "Tab Clear." They took their least-popular soda brand, Tab, and made a clear edition. The one and only purpose of Tab Clear was to create market confusion around clear colas, which would accelerate their demise.

Here was the thought process:
  1. Make "clear" colas seem lesser. They picked Tab Clear, not Coca-Cola Clear, because as a Coke executive told the New York Times, Coca-Cola was too iconic of a brand to adapt like that. (Short memory on Coke II, I guess.) "Clear Coke is an oxymoron," he said. The not-so-subtle implication, of course, is that Pepsi was NOT an iconic brand that could be messed with wantonly and haphazardly.

  2. Tab was a diet soda only. While Crystal Pepsi came in regular and diet versions, Tab Clear only came in Tab's artificially sweetened formula. The goal was to confuse people into thinking Crystal Pepsi was also a diet-only drink, which would turn off potential customers. (Diet sodas were far less popular in the early '90s, primarily because sucking down insane amounts of sugar and corn syrup that tasted good was preferred to sucking down insane amounts of artificial sweetners and chemicals that tasted worse.)

  3. Tab was considered a "woman's" brand. It was like the Virginia Slims of sodas. So Coke was trying to equate clear colas with women, in an attempt to discourage men from drinking them. Sexism was still really hot in the '90s.

  4. Tab Clear was gross. Coca-Cola paid lip service to the idea that Tab Clear was "full-flavored," but the early reviews described it was "cinnamony," "peppery" and "not like Tab." It was supposed to taste different, bad, and not like a cola; mission accomplished.
Tab Clear only lasted about five months, into the spring of 1993. It was dismissed a failure -- but it wasn't. It was a flop that didn't hurt any perceptions of Coca-Cola -- who cares about Tab? -- but did hurt Pepsi. Although there's no way to ascertain how much Tab Clear's intentional failure contributed to Crystal Pepsi's demise, both disappeared off the shelves around the same time. (Crystal Pepsi was reformatted to have a citrus flavor and made a brief comeback, but was completely gone by 1994.)

Have there been other corporate kamikaze missions? Not confirmed, but probably. Things like Go-Bots, Playstation Move, last year's Fantastic Four, every network's version of The View, FOX News and McDonald's using kale can't be coincidences.


This post was originally published on Thursday, July 21, 2016 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Food & Drink.

Facebookery?
11 Best Discontinued Fast Food Items

11 Pairs of Damn Near Identical Movies That Were Released at the Same Time

11 Photos of Poorly Phrased Advertisements

11 Things You Should Eat on Your First Eleven Dates

11 Horrifying (and Sometimes Sexy) Ingredients Hidden In Popular Foods

Archive of all Food & Drink posts
A Ban on Everclear Grain Alcohol Is Bad News... For the Violin Industry?
A Ban on Everclear Grain Alcohol Is Bad News... For the Violin Industry?
Published Thursday, July 6, 2017 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Food & Drink
11 Pairs of Classic Movies That Were Surprisingly Released on the Same Day ('90-'94)
11 Pairs of Classic Movies That Were Surprisingly Released on the Same Day ('90-'94)
Published Thursday, June 22, 2017 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Movies
11 One-Hit Wonders Whose One Hit Was a Cover
11 One-Hit Wonders Whose One Hit Was a Cover
Published Friday, June 9, 2017 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Music
11 Nintendo Video Game Systems, Ranked By How Many Games They Got
11 Nintendo Video Game Systems, Ranked By How Many Games They Got
Published Friday, June 2, 2017 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Games
11 Songs That Just List Off a Whole Bunch of Cities
11 Songs That Just List Off a Whole Bunch of Cities
Published Friday, May 19, 2017 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Music
11 Coincidental Wardrobe Choices That are Evidence of Cosmic Intervention
11 Coincidental Wardrobe Choices That are Evidence of Cosmic Intervention
Published Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Misc
Full Archive
Follow
11 Points

Mailing list


Twitter


Facebook


YouTube


Pinterest


RSS