In the early-90s, a marketing fad equating clarity with purity led to Pepsi creating a new beverage that they marketed as the caffeine-free “clear alternative” to normal colas. Maybe it was that soda lovers around the world were infatuated with the clearness of beverages like 7UP, but personally conflicted as they also preferred the taste of the darker sludge-looking cola beverages such as Pepsi–regardless, in the minds of Pepsi, the future was clear–crystal clear that is.
The initial television marketing campaign for Crystal Pepsi began with an ad during Super Bowl XXVII. Featuring “Right Now” by Van Halen, these ads went hard in pushing the product as at least, the future of soft drinks, and at most, the one product that would save all of humanity. Pepsi even went as far as putting full-size samples of the product in Sunday newspaper deliveries of the Boston Globe in an attempt to get people to try the product. The gameplan initially worked as sales Crystal Pepsi were impressive. However, once the hype died down, sales began to slump.
As a child of 8, my thoughts on Crystal Pepsi at the time were not much deeper than “it’s cool because it’s clear”. However, my opinion on the product quickly changed after having my first taste. Although it’s been too long ago for me to give a detailed opinion on what Crystal Pepsi actually tasted like, I can say that something definitely was off-putting about the taste.
It was a tremendous learning experience. I still think it’s the best idea I ever had, and the worst executed. A lot of times as a leader you think, “They don’t get it; they don’t see my vision.” People were saying we should stop and address some issues along the way, and they were right. It would have been nice if I’d made sure the product tasted good. Once you have a great idea and you blow it, you don’t get a chance to resurrect it.
– Yum! Brands Chairman David C. Novak – Fast Company, 2007
Soon after the release of Crystal Pepsi, Coca-Cola released their own clear soda with the launch of Tab Clear in late-92. Differing from Crystal Pepsi in that it had caffeine and was sugar-free, Tab Clear has since been declared to be a form of sabotage by Coca-Cola. According to Coca-Cola Chief Marketing Officer Sergio Zyman, the company used the Tab brand rather than Coke as Tab Clear’s only purpose was to confuse consumers into thinking that if Tab Clear had no sugar, Crystal Pepsi did not either.
It’s hard to say if Coca-Cola’s attempt at sabotage was the reason for the decline of the clear cola, but it is apparent that Crystal Pepsi’s focus on the gimmick of the product and not the taste is what eventually turned consumers away from it. In the end, Crystal Pepsi lasted not much longer than a year, making it one of the companies shortest-lived beverages.
Fueled by recent 90s nostalgia, Pepsi has recently announced the return of Crystal Pepsi to store shelves in the Summer of 2016. Time will tell if this re-release will prove more successful or if consumers will once again grow bored of the product once the hype and nostalgia has worn off. I know I’ll definitely try one for nostalgia’s sake.