A few years ago I wrote two articles for the Archie McPhee website Monkey Goggles. They also republished two other articles I wrote here (Glorious Glass and Origins of Our Favorite Toys). It was a fun little site with quirky humor/pop culture articles and I was glad to contribute. My buddy Shawn over at Branded in the 80s also wrote a few articles for the site.
Anyway, it seems that the Monkey Goggles website has stopped updating. There haven’t been any new articles for the last year or so (since editor Geoff Carter left). So, like Shawn, I decided to archive my articles here before they are swallowed by the Internet. Today, you are looking at the first all-new article I wrote for the site. It’s about failed soda.
The Cola Wars of the ’80s and ’90s really brought about a lot of competitive creativity between Pepsi and Coke (and to a lesser degree, 7-Up). They threw whatever soda flavor they could conceive of against the wall to see what would stick. Some worked (Cherry Coke, Mountain Dew Code Red), and some blew up in their faces like a novelty cigar (New Coke, Crystal Pepsi).
Instead of marveling at the thrills of victory, let’s wallow in the agony of their failures. Here’s a list of some of the most spectacular soda failures from the long history of the Cola Wars.
New Coke - No list like this one is complete without mentioning the Godfather of all soda failures. Released in 1985, New Coke caused the collective soda-drinking world to lose its damn mind. Coke drinkers actually tried to levy a class action lawsuit against Coke for releasing the new formula. (Seriously.)
It was a fiasco. Coke was forced to bring back Coke Classic not three months after releasing New Coke. After the return of Classic Coke, New Coke was re-branded Coke II and then died a slow death in 1992. The “Classic” moniker still exists on the can to this day. (Read a more complete history of New Coke here).
Crystal Pepsi - Apparently Pepsi wanted in on all the hate mail and lawsuits Coke got for New Coke. So they decided that they too would try something new. In 1992, Crystal Pepsi was released with great fanfare, including a high-profile commercial during that year’s Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, Crystal Pepsi failed to live up to expectations. A clear cola that didn’t have a lemon-lime taste frightened and confused the soda-drinking public. It became more a novelty than a soda to be taken seriously. Many people don’t remember, though, that for its first year Crystal Pepsi sold well enough to grab an 11% market share (and caused Coke to release the next item on this list). After that banner year, however, the bottom dropped out and Crystal Pepsi’s sales plummeted.
As a last ditch effort, Pepsi reformulated Crystal Pepsi with a lemon-lime flavor and re-branded it as Crystal by Pepsi. Too little, too late.
OK Soda - In 1992, Coke decided to try something new and released this less carbonated, more fruity soda with anunconventional marketing campaign. Fliers, soda “manifestos” and “underground” phone numbers with voicemail were used to target the youth market. This tactic was definitely different, but it backfired as the targeted audience realized it was being marketed what executives at Coke believed to be an “edgy” soft drink. After poor sales, OK Soda was discontinued in 1993.