Few companies have a rivalry as fierce and longstanding as PepsiCo and Coca-Cola and in their never ending battle for the soda market dominance, each company has gone to some spectacular lengths to screw over the other.
Arguably the most fiendishly genius move of all was one made by Coca-Cola in the early 1990s- a move that basically involved intentionally releasing a terrible product purely to try to screw over by association a similar product released by Pepsi.
The genesis for this tale began in the early 1990s during what is referred to in the marketing world as the “Clear Craze”. In a nutshell, for whatever reason, many companies began releasing clear versions of their products, using marketing buzzwords like “pure” and “clean” to advertise them to the public.
A company recognised as the industry leader in this regard was the soap giant, Ivory, who, among other things, released a clear version of their dish soap in the early 1990s. Ivory Clear was advertised with rather questionably accurate slogans like “Ivory attacks the grease, not the natural oils in your skin”.The idea of clear products was quickly used in diverse and eclectic range of products including Zima Clearmalt (a clear citrus beer), Mennen Crystal Clean deodorant, and, perhaps most bizarre of all, Amoco Crystal Clear gasoline.
As you might have guessed given the lack of ubiquitous see-through products on your local super market shelves, most of these products either failed miserably or quietly faded into obscurity when the Clear Craze went full meta and disappeared.
This brings us to Crystal Pepsi, which was devised by then COO of PepsiCo, David Novak, in 1992. The soda was virtually identical in composition to their flagship product, sans the caramel coloring used to give so many sodas their distinctive brown hue.
Novak’s idea was to market the soda like other products released during the Clear Craze and hope consumers would equate it being clear with “purity” and, thus, assume that it was a healthier alternative to regular Pepsi.
Of course, as sodas are wont to be, Crystal Pepsi was still terrible for you. For example, a single 20 oz bottle of Crystal Pepsi still contained around 69 grams of sugar, or about 16 teaspoons worth- the same as normal Pepsi.Taste wise, Crystal Pepsi is extremely similar to regular Pepsi, however, fans of the product claimed they could still tell the difference, though how much of this was just in their heads isn’t clear.
Nevertheless, the slight taste difference was brought up during the product’s design phase, with one bottler at a Pepsi plant telling Novak: “David, it’s a great idea, and we think we can make it great, but it needs to taste more like Pepsi.
If you call it Pepsi, people will expect it to taste like Pepsi. ”Novak decided to ignore these concerns, and presumably also ignored the fact that by saying Crystal Pepsi was better because it wasn’t brown they were literally advertising that all their brown drinks weren’t good for you.
Despite all this, Crystal Pepsi was rushed into production.I nitially it seemed that Novak’s gut feeling was correct and trials in cities like Denver and Dallas in early 1992 garnered positive feedback from customers. Encouraged by this, PepsiCo eventually began rolling out the product nationwide in early 1993.