Thursday, April 2, 2009

Crystal Pepsi

Are you sick of delicious, well-known sodas? Do you find the comforting and familiar to be generally repugnant? Do you need a new soda Right Now, and would prefer to drink it accompanied by the Van Halen song of the same name?

Well, you're in luck! Or at least, you would have been had you expressed these concerns somewhere between 1992 and 1993.

In 1992, Pepsi executives sat down and thought, "Sure, our product is delicious and thirst-quenching...but is it pure?" You may have thought they had learned a key and important lesson in not-tampering-with-a-successful-formula from the 1985 "New Coke" debacle, but you would be wrong. In an ever-ongoing battle for one-upmanship between Pepsico and the Coca Cola Company, no product launch was too ridiculous.

Thankfully, they had an equally absurd ad campaign to accompany the product. Although Crystal Pepsi was indeed clear in color, it tasted pretty much like original Pepsi. I may be going out on a limb here, but I assume that if it tastes the same, there were not major recipe changes for the beverage outside of altering the color of the syrup. This did not stop our friends over at Pepsi from making the supposed "clarity=purity" concept the major cornerstone of their advertising campaigns. The concept in itself was ridiculous; no one was claiming Sprite or 7UP to be particularly pure in comparison to its darker-syruped soda peers. Regardless of the obvious fallibility of this advertising claim, PepsiCo pushed ahead with quintessential 90s commercials like this:

So, what did you learn? Nothing? What? You mean to tell me that despite all of those definitive statements splashed across my screen, not a single one of them tells us anything at all about the product itself aside from its clear color? Well, at least the music drops some heavy hints on when I can expect to find this beverages in stores. I'll give you a hint: it's not later.

Clearly (sorry, I had to), Pepsi was piggybacking on other marketing trends at the time and aiming to portray a product that was simultaneously familiar and improved. Researchers at the time were uncovering some mildly convincing evidence that people's perception of taste or quality is heavily impacted by its color. However, what the Pepsi R&D people failed to take into account was that people's expectations for taste also change significantly with a color shift. While people were expecting Crystal Pepsi to have a lighter taste and lower caloric content (after all, it's not a huge leap from how they market it in the above ad), their tastebuds were in uproar over the eye-to-brain miscommunication.

While Crystal Pepsi had done well in initial test markets, the actual substance of the product failed to live up to the hype. People tasted the cola and were generally unimpressed from its near indistinguishability from the original. In an effort to counterbalance popular public opinion, PepsiCo released the following commercial:

So, what did they think? They claimed it have a "nice lemony-zing taste!" and a "clear" flavor. None of those things were particularly true about the initial Crystal Pepsi formula, but the folks over at Pepsi were desperate to convince us they were so. Confronted with a backlash from loyal Pepsi drinkers, Pepsi continued backpedaling in an effort to extricate themselves from this sticky (though supposedly "less syrupy!") situation.

Suddenly, it was like the Clinton impeachment hearing of soda marketing as the Pepsi people really took it down to semantics. "What do you mean we called it Crystal Pepsi? It's called Crystal from Pepsi!" That's right. Pepsi realized that their staunch classic soda adherents were in a huff over the fact that they tried to pass off this colorless impostor as their old favorite Pepsi. Why, this wasn't Pepsi at all! It's as if their fanbase got together and put out a statement saying, "We don't care if you make it. We don't even care if people know it's from Pepsi. But for God's sake, we can't have people thinking this is Pepsi! Blasphemy!"

And so it was:

At least this ad shows the corporation is able to poke some fun at itself. Pepsi recognized how ridiculous the addition of this meaningless preposition was to the name of their product. They also knew it was absurd that they were forced to add a citrus flavor based on people's perceptions of how a clear soda should taste.

After all of that, I think we can all agree: no more messing with the original. Is that clear?



Mr. Condescending said...

god i loved that stuff

Cory said...

I vaguely remember drinking something like Pepsi Blue back in the day. It was sweeter than Pepsi and, naturally, blue. Am I crazy, or did such a thing exist?

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